I recently posted a request for people to share their most burning questions about library marketing and communications. In response, I received this question:
What’s the best way to get feedback from patrons?
This is a great question, and a subject I care a lot about! Good marketing and communications planning requires four components: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. Patron feedback supplies us with two of those components: Research and Evaluation. To learn more about this planning process, check out my video series, “You Can Build a Library Marketing & Communications Plan.”
There are many great ways you can get patron feedback for your planning efforts. The best overall way to get patron feedback is to do a statistically representative survey. According to my favorite resource, the Study Guide for Accreditation in Public Relations (updated in 2021):
Survey research is a quantitative method that uses a series of written, oral or online questions to sample a desired “universe” — a population or group of people. Surveys are excellent ways to determine the knowledge or opinions of identified groups … The important part of this method is developing questions that clearly address your research objective without threatening the people you are surveying. Surveys can be mailed, emailed, telephoned, asked in person or completed online.https://www.prsa.org/docs/default-source/accreditation-site/apr-study-guide.pdf?sfvrsn=3023e23c_2
The study guide goes on to explain the pros and cons of these different methods.
In my experience, the best way to get statistically representative and reliable survey feedback is a phone survey conducted by a professional research firm. The price tag for this kind of research can be high, but if you have the budget it’s a great investment. These professional survey experts can help design a survey for optimal input and ensure that you get a demographically representative and statistically relevant sample. They can also help you get feedback from non-library users, a valuable group that we rarely hear from.
As much as I love these more formal types of surveys for planning and evaluation, they are lagging measures, meaning you get the feedback after people have had an experience or formed an opinion about the library. If you want to get customer feedback more in real-time, you can do an online survey of customers. There are companies that offer this service specifically for libraries. I have worked with Orange Boy Inc., and have also heard good things about Qualtrics. You can also design your own using SurveyMonkey or other similar tools. A quick google search of library customer surveys brings lots of examples from library systems. If you know of other examples, please comment on this post!
I discuss surveys in detail in chapters 2 and 5 of my book, Library Marketing and Communications: Strategies to Increase Relevance and Results. You can download an excerpt here and order it online today.