6 Ways to Do Communication Research

Research is a core component of improving marketing and communication efforts for any organization. It helps evaluate current efforts, run A/B tests, adjust for improvement and build audience personas.Communication research doesn’t always have to be expensive. There are many ways to gather insight, each with its own set of advantages. Here are some approaches we’ve used for clients.

Social Media

If your organization is already on social media (it should be!), you have data and insights available at your fingertips. Without doing a survey, you can easily learn a lot about your online audience. But if you want to do more formal research, consider using social media polls. Each channel tackles polls a bit differently, but Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all let you take the temperature of your followers on a particular question or topic. Using social for informal communication research is a no-brainer. It’s low cost, takes minimal effort and can be deployed in an instant.


Looking for something a bit more in-depth, but still in the digital realm? SurveyMonkey is one of our go-to’s for communication research because it’s affordable, user-friendly and makes data collection and analysis easy.

PRO TIP: As you’re creating your questions, SurveyMonkey will tell you approximately how long it will take people to complete the survey. Always keep it short and to the point!

You can collect responses in a number of ways (e.g. a custom URL or an email sent to your mailing list), but you can also pair an online survey with a printed piece that drives recipients to the survey website. This can be helpful if you’re trying to reach an audience segment that isn’t particularly digitally savvy. And it also adds a layer of legitimacy and inclusion to your efforts.

Individual Interviews

If you’re after robust qualitative findings, individual interviews can be a good way to go. We often like to leverage this type of communication research in tandem with a more quantitative approach. Individual interviews can be used to inform branding, story mine for content marketing and media relations, or simply gain a deeper understanding of a particular stakeholder group. You’ll get rich insight with one-on-one interviews, but scheduling, administration and analysis are very time-consuming. So, if you’re looking to a third party to complete these on your behalf, prepare for it to be a bit pricey—especially if you want them to interview a lot of people.

PRO TIP: If you’re conducting interviews, don’t be afraid to go off-script a bit. Focusing too intently on your list of questions can cause you to miss an opportunity for a great follow-up question.

Focus Groups

Conducting research with focus groups is an intricate process that can be expensive, but it’s a good way to test messaging and products on customers and prospects, or hear from your employees. In addition to developing the survey instrument and analyzing the results, you’ll have to think about recruitment, incentives, facilities and recording capabilities for focus groups. If you have the budget, it’s usually easiest to leverage a research partner who can help you manage all of it.

PRO TIP: It’s often best to have someone who isn’t associated with your organization facilitate the focus group. But, if you go that route, be sure to discuss what you’re hoping to learn from the research with them in advance.

Cold Call

Making phone calls is one of the most labor-intensive ways to conduct communications research. It may not cost you any cash to pick up the phone and call someone, but it is hugely time-consuming—and we all know that time is money.The barrage of unsolicited and spam phone calls in recent years has many people not picking up the phone. In fact, most Americans regularly ignore phone calls—especially when they don’t recognize the number. If you’re trying to reach a more mature segment of the population, you may have better luck reaching them by phone compared to Millennials.

PRO TIP: It goes without saying that for any of these research methods, you should only contact people you legally have permission to contact.

Mailed Paper Survey

Paper, printing and postage make a mailed paper survey a costly undertaking. However, if you have a less digitally savvy but highly engaged audience, like members of a professional organization, the expense may be justified. Data entry and analysis will be tedious on the back end but designing the survey with plenty of room for people to write freely can help. A printed (non-mailed) survey can also complement an online survey, giving those who don’t want to go online a low-tech option. This helps you include the full spectrum of your audience and avoid excluding valuable information from your research.  

What research methods have you used? Tell us in the comments below! And if you’re looking for help with your next communications research project, let us know.