How to do a reader survey
Reader surveys are an excellent way to get a better feel for your audience. Does your comic skew towards female reader? Do they tend to be younger or older? What are their other interests? would they support a Kickstarter for a new book? What rewards would make them Patreon backers?
In fact, we’ve posted a helpful DIY tutorial so you can ask all of the questions you need to ask — without paying for a potentially-expensive service like SurveyMonkey.
But what if you’re not getting a very healthy response from your readers? Should you seek out additional respondents? Advertise for more input? Solicit other cartoonists?
Be very careful, your quest for more information could result in your getting very, very bad information. And that’s downright dangerous. Here’s why…
First off, no news is bad news
If you feel the need to solicit feedback — beyond the readers of your comic — because you’re simply not getting a high volume of responses from your readers, then you’re already getting all the information you need about your comic.
And it spells out some pretty grim news.
You have a very small readership and/or those readers aren’t very emotionally invested in your comic.
Your work is cut out for you. You need to figure out why your comic isn’t generating more traffic and/or more-invested fans. Here’s a good place to start.
Reader outreach is GOOD
To make sure there’s no confusion, you should definitely be promoting your survey in all of the places your readers are likely to find it. These places include your website and your social-media feeds. Promote in these places early and often.
Non-reader outreach is BAD
Recently, I saw a webcartoonist post a reader-survey solicitation on a social-media group for webcartoonists. After general demographics, the reader survey boiled down to one important question: “Would you support a Kickstarter campaign for a book?”
Why would you solicit feedback from a bunch of people who (likely) have not read your comic — or, at best, took a cursory glance at your site? It seems to me like this would be a great way to get incredibly misleading information.
Their response was that getting additional sources of information would yield a wider range of views — and that the views of fellow creators would be particularly useful. Wrong answer. I tried to explain why:
That is, of course, your choice. But you’re generating useless information.
Take gender, for example. It would be very useful to know if your comic skews towards one gender over the other. But, in asking us [fellow webcartoonists] to participate, you’re not going to get an accurate sample. [Because WE are not your readers.] Worse yet, if you were to actually use the data to base important decisions on, you could be leading yourself astray.
The Kickstarter question is even more problematic. When a reader says they would back a Kickstarter, it’s a potential pledge. When a colleague says they would back a Kickstarter, it’s purely theoretical — “I would back it if I were a reader… which I’m not.”
And that could lead you towards a Kickstarter campaign doomed from Step One.
Bottom Line: You’re not doing yourself any favors.
The cartoonist insisted that since this was just one part of a larger information-gathering endeavor (yeah, right), that there was no problem introducing non-reader input into a reader survey.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it think.
I left the matter there because — honestly, I’m not invested in whether that comic succeeds or fails. I feel responsible for offering some information when I see someone doing something that’s liable to screw them up, but I’m not responsible for saving them from themselves.
However, I am responsible to share information here with you — and to make certain that you’re able to use that information to the best of your abilities.
To that end, let’s make it perfectly clear:
- Reader surveys are for readers, and only for readers
- Soliciting non-reader input skews your data — dangerously so
- There’s only one reason I can think of for soliciting non-reader data, and that’s if your reader-response has been weak.
- If that’s the case, you already have all the data you need.