Blog survey findings 3: reading habits

(This is the third post in a series reporting topline results from the recent aid/development blog reader survey. Please go here for full results and other commentary.)

Although I presented the demographic data first, the survey itself started with questions about blog reading habits. We thought these would serve as an easy entry point. This post presents the initial findings from those questions.

Frequency of reading blogs (Q1)

Most of the audience reads blogs frequently. Over half responded with either “about once per day” or “more than once per day”. See the chart below.

This question may be susceptible to response bias, as those who read blogs more frequently are more likely to have seen reminders for taking the survey. However, given that 95% responded with “about once per week” or more frequently, and the survey was open for about two weeks, any nonresponse due to infrequent reading is likely to be small.

frequency

This kind of data is interesting when you think about audience segmentation. About a fifth of the audience reads blogs more than once per day; on the other end of the scale, a small segment reads blogs once a week or less. Those two groups probably consume different amounts of information and so they consume it differently. For example, when I write a long series of posts on a single topic (like this series on the survey results), I bet the daily+ readers will see each one in turn, while the weekly-or-less group sees them all at once. A long series may be overwhelming if you see them all at once, so the weekly-or-less group might skip over them entirely. But that’s just speculation.

How the audience reads blogs (Q2)

We were curious how people got blog content, so we asked for how frequently they use different methods. For those of us who read a lot of blogs, the idea of going to each page individually seems crazy. But it turns out that I’m not a typical blog reader.

The chart below shows responses – frequently, occasionally, rarely, or never (not shown) – for four common methods. It looks like RSS readers win the frequently/occasionally category, but many people will (rarely) go directly to a blog’s website. Social networking sites show some teeth here (more on them below). Email gets thrashed. By the way, my own site stats show a similar pattern: I have about 10 times as many RSS subscribers as email subscribers.

how audience reads

Takeaways: Bloggers should keep paying attention to layout and design, but also always include an RSS feed. Having a blog presence on Twitter, Facebook, etc. can help readers access your content as well. Email subscription service is nice but less relevant.

Social networking and other sites (Q17)

At the end of the survey we asked about use of various social networking sites. The question was about general usage, not specific to aid/development blogs. Again, the question asked respondents to choose frequently, occasionally, rarely or never for each one. Facebook came out the clear winner, with LinkedIn and Twitter following it. Google Plus and internet discussion groups form a second tier, with “other” and Devex on the bottom. See the chart for more.

social networking sites

Although Google Plus is trailing the major sites, it’s way too early to count it out. I’ll be interested to see what this graph looks like in a year. As for Devex, I’m a little sad to see the development-focused site do so poorly, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. I use Devex as a source of news and job postings, but not for networking. Also, it’s the only paid-subscription site we included in the list.

This would be a great question for subgroup analysis. Which sets of blog readers are using which sites? Does it vary by age, or perhaps issues of interest? Maybe the ICT4D crowd gravitates toward Twitter while the economists use Devex? I don’t know. If anyone looks into the data and finds anything interesting, let me know.

How the audience responds to blogs (Q3)

This question sought to address the impact of blogs, though in an indirect way. The question asked respondents to report on how frequently they take certain behavior after reading a post. The two dominant responses were “mention blog posts in conversations with friends/colleagues” and “email blog posts to friends/colleagues”.

how audience responds

Interestingly, the two dominant responses are the ones that are hardest for bloggers to track. After I write a post, I have four indicators on whether it resonates: page views, comments submitted, any re-posting on social networking sites, and any responses that other bloggers write. But the two primary ways people respond (emailing and mentioning it in conversations) are completely outside my indicators. At least this will console me next time I write a post and no one comments: they must be too busy emailing it to their grandma and talking about it around the water cooler!

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I hope the above information will be useful to bloggers as they communicate with their audience. Some bloggers don’t believe in adapting what they do to suit the audience. I think there’s some value in that position. I prefer to write on the issues I’m passionate about rather than try to serve up popular or trendy topics. That said, obviously we all care about being read — otherwise you’d keep a diary, not a blog. These findings should help you think about how people read your blog, and maybe how you can make it easier for them.

The next post on the survey findings will be shorter: issues of interest. For complete results, go here.