How often do you bring your readers together? I know that probably sounds like a strange question and I can already imagine some of you sitting there shaking your heads as you read this, but seriously, how often do you get a group of readers (and even potential readers) together to talk?
This isn’t such a far-fetched idea, companies of all types and sizes use Consumer Panels to provide insight and feedback. Your newspaper might even have Reader Panels that they use to provide reaction to design or marketing ideas or on specific types of coverage. For example, typically before launching a Young Reader publication, many newspapers will gather a group of readers and potential readers to gauge their reaction to the proposed product and solicit their thoughts on the look and feel.
So why shouldn’t you, as an individual reporter, benefit from this approach. Thanks to a number of online websites, you too can assemble your own reader panel and use it to provide you with feedback on your work, suggestions for new stories or even insight on local current events.
One option is to use Meetup.com. This popular website helps bring together people who share a variety of interest. You could use the site to create, for example, an education group for your area. Once you have registered and created your group, Meetup will then reach out to registered members located in or near your community to announce the event. You can also point people to it via your own newsletter or your social network profiles.
Two things to keep in mind about Meetup: 1) You can keep your group private, which means that you get approve members and only those you’ve approved can see details about the gathering. 2) Meetup costs money, there are currently 3 price plans:
- $12 a month for 6 months (a single $72 charge)
- $15 a month for 3 months (a single $45 charge)
- $19 a month
The other way to approach forming your own reader panel is to use evite.com. Now evite won’t help you identify potential panel members, but will help with the organization of the event. If you have a sizeable source list and/or mailing list for your newsletter, then this might be the better way to go. This online service is free and easy. Basically you select a design for your invite, complete the required fields pertaining to the where and when and enter the contact information for your invitees and hit send. From there, evite takes over.
No matter if you decide to Meetup or evite, you need some place to host the gathering. I would not, definitely not, recommend your home. Chances are your local library or municipal building has meeting rooms that you can sign-up to use. Your newspaper might also allow you to use a conference room, so check with your editor. For a smaller group, there is nothing saying that you can’t hold your gathering at a local coffee shop, McDonalds or on a nice day, at a local park.
Before you get together draft an agenda, think about a theme or a question that you can use to frame the group’s conversation. Since part of the goal is to get feedback on your recent work, I would suggest emailing a couple of relevant and recent piece to the participants and bring some hardcopies. Make sure to thank everyone for coming and giving you some of their limited time. If you can have some food (heck a box of cookies and a gallon of milk would suffice) consider it, although it’s far from a deal-breaker. And don’t forget your business cards!
I think you’ll find these gatherings fun and valuable. I think your participants will get something out of them as well. And I think your editors will even take notice; you might even start a trend in your newsroom.
With that said, go get your group together and make sure to let me know how it goes.