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8 Tips for a Healthier Relationship with Your Audience

Nicole Coumes

Senior User Experience Designer, Forum One

Valentine’s Day: it’s a time for celebrating and appreciating the relationships in your life. While you may have been focusing on your familiar relationships like your family, partner, or furry best friend–it’s also important to check in with another crucial relationship you may have neglected: the one with your user. Long-term relationships take work! Luckily we have laid out some new relationship-building strategies to help improve your connection with your audience and create a feedback loop that will allow your relationship to flourish.

1. Fight the problem, not each other

You’re barely speaking to one another, and when you hear from them, you only get into arguments. In moments like these, it’s very easy to lash out or to blame the other person rather than focus on the underlying problem that causes the turmoil. Sound familiar? When you’re getting negative feedback from your audiences, it’s easy to be dismissive of that feedback (“oh, they aren’t our target audience”) or defensive (“the users don’t understand what we are trying to do”). Instead, focus your energy on solving the foundational challenge that is causing trouble in paradise. Take a look at your customer feedback log or analytics; do you see themes in the feedback? Consistent negative feedback or unexplained drop-off rates can point to something that isn’t working well in the user experience. Once you identify what the problem is you can conduct additional research to gain deeper insights (see tips #4, #5, #6,) or create a plan to address the challenge (see tip #8).

2. Learn how to listen

One of the most important parts of healthy communication in your relationship is listening. When you are receiving feedback, make sure you are not trying to offer solutions immediately on the spot. Instead, take some time to empathize quietly and take in the feedback. When you are conducting research like that described in tip #4, make sure you are structuring questions so that answers are open-ended and allow for plenty of time for your subjects to get comfortable enough to open up and vent.

3. Never assume

It’s very easy to make assumptions about people we think we know well. Whenever you get the urge, try asking yourself, “is there factual information that I can reference that supports my assumption?” Don’t get burned by making a costly assumption about your audiences that can’t be backed up. A mistake like this can greatly deteriorate the trust between you and those inside or outside your organization. Your data sources are your friend! Check out this helpful resource to help you figure out how to understand your organization’s data maturity. 

4. Talk face-to-face

You have some audience feedback from some quantitative sources (e.g., web traffic data) but you are lacking richer insight. Sure, you could talk to a subject matter expert to gain a deeper understanding of your audience’s needs, but it can be more efficient to talk to your end-users directly rather than soliciting advice from the proverbial “best friend.” It’s time to set up some user interviews to better understand what these groups need from your product or service.

To get started, we recommend drafting a plan for your research. Make sure you are clear on your research objective (e.g., outline the current challenges and opportunities in our online application process) and draft a set of questions that help address your objective. We recommend meeting with those you’re interviewing face-to-face, whether it’s over video conference or in-person. It’s also important to remember that this is an opportunity for you to listen! Try to avoid leading questions that insert your own opinion or bias. 

5. Learn their “Love Language”

Not everyone prefers to communicate in the same way. Marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote his book, Five Love Languages (1995), and popularized the idea that individuals give love and value different signs of affection differently. For example, some people value spending quality time with a loved one over receiving words of affirmation. The way audiences want to be communicated with also varies by social markers like age, environment, and income. For example, some individuals may prefer receiving a utility bill through the mail versus electronically over email. Get to know the way your audiences prefer to receive information by conducting a survey, interviews, or monitor your current channels by using a social listening tool. Once you better understand these preferences, you will be able to more appropriately target groups in the form of communication they prefer.

6. Keep the spark going

Over time, you may have stopped investing in getting to know and court your partner. However, chances are your relationship with your audiences is a long-term commitment. It’s important to continue to get to know and check in with your audiences. If you haven’t done audience research in more than a couple of years, chances are the data you are working from is no longer relevant. You’re probably not the same person you were two, five, or 10 years ago—neither are your end-users. Consumer trends change over time and user behaviors and expectations evolve as technology does.

Conducting audience research doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. In fact, according to Nielsen Norman Group, testing with five users is optimal for getting enough research to act on without diminishing returns. If you are pressed by budget, check some of these handy resources and tools:

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff

It’s easy to get analysis paralysis when looking at your audience data. There will always be bug fixes, language tweaks to content, and new digital assets you need to upload. Take a step back and focus on making meaningful improvements to the user experience that will have a higher return on investment (ROI). When deciding which areas to improve, focus on addressing problematic themes that are inhibiting the experience of your audience balanced with your organization’s business goals.

8. Take it to the next level

It’s one thing to say you’re ready for commitment and improving your relationship with your audiences and another to begin implementing that feedback. Remember, you’re in it for the long haul, so you need to create measurable change to show progress and keep yourself accountable. Start with setting goals for your user experience and then aligning them with KPIs. For example, your goal could be to increase engagement with resources, and your key metrics could be measuring increased event attendance, increased completion of training videos/webinars, and increased download rates of key resources. Ready for more? Create a roadmap of new features or improvements you’d like to make, for any actionable items that can be implemented near-term, add them to your product backlog.

Creating a healthier relationship with your audiences isn’t an all or nothing affair, it’s about nurturing a long-lasting relationship and making sure both you and your audiences are evolving together. 

Written By

Nicole Coumes

Senior User Experience Designer, Forum One

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