Tag Archives: audience analysis

Teaching Audience Analysis Through Worksheets: Approaching Audience Analysis as Qualitative Research

Editorial Record: This article was originally submitted as an AEJMC Public Relations Division GIFTs paper, with a February 19, 2021 deadline. JPRE invited top GIFTs authors to submit to JPRE by June 18, 2021. First published in September 2021.


Julia R. Hathaway, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY
Email: Julia.hathaway@stonybrook.edu

Elizabeth Duesterhoeft
Undergraduate Student
Honors English Literature Program
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
Email: eduester@gmu.edu

Nicole J. Leavey, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Practice
Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY
Email: Nicole.Leavey@stonybrook.edu

Karen L. Akerlof, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Environment Science and Policy
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
Email: kakerlof@gmu.edu

Suzanne L. Mims
Adjunct Professor
Department of Communication
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
Email: smims@gmu.edu

Katherine E. Rowan, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
Email: krowan@gmu.edu


You are a new employee, and your boss has an important meeting soon. She requests a brief informing her on a new client, an environmentally friendly lawn care company. This brief is an “Audience Analysis,” a common task in strategic communication. Audience analysis involves researching an organization, its context, goals and challenges. While public relations faculty are familiar with audience analysis and its role in strategic planning, what may be less well understood is that students need the “how,” or procedures for systematic audience analysis. That is, students should learn audience analysis as qualitative research employers can review for thoroughness and accuracy. Unfortunately, these skills are under-taught.

Student learning goals

Science students may never study communication in their coursework, and fewer are taught to approach audience analysis in a disciplined manner. In addition, communication students learn about audience analysis, but may not be taught a systematic approach. To remedy this deficit, many universities are now offering courses in science communication as well as courses in communication strategy. These courses often involve projects helping real clients. Students enroll from a variety of backgrounds and know what they want to accomplish, but not how. One of the “how’s,” rarely taught in scientific contexts, is systematic audience analysis. Professionals skilled in systematic audience analysis are needed in government, nonprofits, and for-profits.

Connection to public relations theory and/or practice

Theory and practice show clients are most helped when practitioners understand and address their goals and challenges (Botan, 2018; Brunner, et al., 2018; Lutrell & Capizzo, 2019; Newsom, VanSlyke Turk, & Kruckeberg, 2013). Students can assist clients when they internalize “procedural knowledge” needed for thorough audience analysis. As Hillocks (1986) established, using experiments and meta-analysis, teaching students what we instructors want is inadequate. Focus should also be on procedural knowledge. Helping students understand what we want them to produce is useless without engaging them in how to do it (p. 240).

Evidence of student learning

We studied two strategic campaigns classes and two classes in communicating science to decision makers. In each, some students worked with environmentally engaged clients such as an environmentally friendly lawn care company or the U. S. National Park Service. In three of the four classes, students completed a systematic worksheet for audience analysis. In the fourth, they followed a detailed assignment that tapped social science theory to analyze the client’s request. Students received feedback on the thoroughness and accuracy of their analyses prior to meeting clients. Fifteen students were interviewed. Overall, they said disciplined audience analysis was enlightening and helpful. One science student said: “I just wouldn’t have thought to research my audience. . . I didn’t really think about . . what they value.” A communication student said: “Some . . . questions [on the worksheet] would not be things we would be thinking . . [and thinking] .  . about the audience . . can spark ideas.”

The assignment     

We append the Qualitative Research Approach to Audience Analysis Worksheet along with references. In the worksheet, students provide a concise sum of their findings following each set of questions. An environmentally friendly lawn care company is used as an example.


Botan, C. H. (2018). Strategic communication theory and practice: The cocreational view. Wiley-Blackwell.

Brunner, B. R., Zarkin, K., & Yates, B. (2018).What do employers want? What should faculty teach? A content analysis of employment ads in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Education, 4(2), 21-50. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2018/08/17/what-do-employers-want-what-should-faculty-teach-a-content-analysis-of-entry-level-employment-ads-in-public-relations/

Hillocks, G. (1986). Research on written composition: New directions for teaching. National Conference on Research in English and ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills.

Lutrell, R. M., & Capizzo, L. W. (2019). The PR agency handbook. Sage 
Publications, Inc.

Newsom, D., VanSlyke Turk, J., Kruckeberg, D. (2013). This is PR: The realities of public relations (11th ed.). Wadsworth


Qualitative Research Approach to Audience Analysis Worksheet

This assignment presents audience analysis as a procedure for qualitative research. It uses a planning worksheet. In this illustration, an environmental lawn care company is the client.

Students sum findings, and insert them after each question, which encourages conciseness. Instructors review completed worksheets for accuracy and thoroughness before students interview their client. These steps help students confirm their understanding of the client’s request and consider initial proposals.

  1. Client Basics

Students identify the standard and publicly available information about the environmental lawn care company. This baseline information includes, but is not limited to, organization name, address, contact information, or hours of operation. This information is summarized here.     

  1. What and Why

After compiling basic information, students learn the motivations or goal of the environmental lawn care company. What do they do and how do they function? How are they different from other lawn care companies? Brief examples or stories are helpful here.

3. Public/Audiences

Students identify the internal and external audiences for this company. Internal audiences might include employees. External audiences for the environmental lawn care company might include existing clients or investors, local environmental and gardening experts, extension agents, and governmental authorities monitoring drought, flooding, wetlands, or water quality.

4. Client and Stakeholders by the Numbers

Students find statistical ways of characterizing the audience. This may take the form of “likes” on social media, number of employees, or financial indicators, depending on what is most applicable for the environmental lawn care company. Other “numbers” could include years in business, annual sales, most requested services, and  types of customers (type of residence, business, size of lot, distance from company to customer sites).

5. Competitive Environment

Students identify competitors and other organizations that offer similar services to the environmental lawn care company, How does the company compare and why? What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses?

6. Trends, Issues

What are the trends impacting the environmental lawn care company? What issues affect how business is conducted? Are there tax incentives for certain uses of land? Regulations about wetlands, flood plains? Incentives for planting native trees and flowers? Incentives for reducing fertilizer?  Supporting pollinators? Discouraging deer, geese, or pests naturally? Replanting lawns with wild prairie grasses or flowers?  Xeriscaping?

7. Past, Present, Future

What’s the story of the environmental lawn care company? How did it get started? How has it developed? Why is it important that it is an environmental lawn care company, and what are the company’s future prospects, plans, goals, and interim objectives?

8. Humanize, Values

Humanize this company by learning its stories. Is the company socially responsible and how? Is the company trusted by customers and other publics? Do the owners and employees have community involvements?

9. Communication/Media Audit

Students seek publicly available data, or, if the client makes this possible, they seek data from private, paid sources. They should ask, what media have covered or could cover the company and why? When and how is the environmental lawn care company mentioned in news media? Is that coverage ad hoc or planned? What further media coverage — and by which outlets — would be most beneficial to the company’s goal? Does the company have a website?  What social media metrics are available? What are they?  Do customers and prospective customers use the same social media outlets or others? Is the business featured in news shared by gardening clubs, homeowners’ associations, retirees, schools, and universities?

10. Summarize Conditions Prompting Client Interest in Strategic Communication

Describe why the environmental lawn care company is seeking communication assistance at this time. Why is this important to them?

11. Summarize Client’s Communication Goal

Place a concise statement of what you think this client most wants here.

12. Behaviors Client Wants to Influence

What does the company most want?  Increased sales of expensive but environmentally beneficial services such as replanting wooded areas or xeriscaping?  Relationships with large clients such as local universities or large businesses?  What individual, social, political, and environmental factors affect the chances of creating enduring change among customers and the services they seek?  Consider tax incentives or political changes. What steps might incentivize short-term behavioral change such as discounts? 

More Evidence of Student Learning Outcomes

A number of interviewed students said completing the audience analysis worksheet was helpful.  Said one student about the value of disciplined audience analysis:

“[The class required] you . . . to be prepared before you start[ed] a task or project. If you’re not prepared, you’re going to be spending a lot of time to fill in those gaps.”

This student also said completing the worksheet assisted her in producing written products:

“It should be seamless. It should be, oh, the information’s right here, take that and transfer to the project at hand. Like if it’s a press release, who’s my intended audience? Let me look at the sheet so super useful tool to have.”

In addition, one instructor said the precision and detail of students’ responses to the worksheet was a good indicator of the effectiveness of their proposals for their clients:

“[A] detailed worksheet produces a better plan or proposal. And so, the weaker the worksheet, the weaker the proposal, because if this [the worksheet] is imprecise, . . . [the plan] isn’t going to have great ideas. Or it may have great ideas, but it may have nothing to do with what this [the problem] is.”

Looking back over several years of teaching, this instructor also reported that students who learned to complete audience analysis worksheets thoroughly, through repeated practice and feedback, have done well professionally:

“They’ve . . . been promoted . . .  they’re doing fantastic.”

© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Hathaway, J.R., Duesterhoeft, E., Leavey, N.J., Akerlof, K.L., Mims, S.L., & Rowan, K.E. (2021). Teaching audience analysis through worksheets: Approaching audience analysis as qualitative research. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(2), 221-228. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2021/08/31/teaching-audience-analysis-through-worksheets-approaching-audience-analysis-as-qualitative-research/

Who’s Out There? Using Google Analytics and Social Media Data to Research Online Publics

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.


Melissa Adams, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, public relations
Appalachian State University
Email: adamsmb2@appstate.edu


This assignment was designed as an in-class workshop for public relations students, working in “agency teams,” as part of their senior capstone campaigns course. For the first stage of their campaign proposal (also referred to as “book”) development, students are required to research the online publics of the client organization. This work builds upon the information shared during the client briefing and helps students prepare for doing primary research of their own prior to campaign development. This assignment illustrates the value of digital research methods to understand who is already following the organization online and how they are engaging with them and their content. Finally, this assignment provides students with the opportunity to dig into analytic data and work as a team to analyze findings and develop profiles of key publics––much in the way one would in a professional agency setting.

To do this assignment, students work individually to complete the worksheet but sit together to discuss it as part of their previously formed agency teams. This arrangement allows students who may have had some exposure to online audience research or Google Analytics to assist teammates who do not, and it provides the instructor more freedom to move around the room to help each team or answer questions as needed. Each student must have access to WiFi and a device with internet access capability to complete the assignment. 

Student Learning Goals

This assignment will help students gain knowledge and cultivate skills in the following areas:

  • Build research skills through the use of secondary data analysis (Google Analytics and social media accounts). 
  • Develop analytic acumen through the synthesis of multiple data points to develop profiles of organizational publics.
  • Understand how to perform a basic social media audit for a client.
  • Gain experience working with actual client organization data to develop a campaign addressing current business/organizational goals.

Connection to Public Relations Practice and Theory

Understanding how to access, analyze, and synthesize digital data to provide insights into client publics as part of campaign planning and evaluation is a necessary skill in digital public relations. This assignment mimics basic research activities I performed in the industry as part of campaign planning, which involved analyzing new client social outreach and messaging issues. The assignment may be used in any public relations or social media course focused on strategy and campaign planning. However, the client must provide access to its analytics account to the instructor, which is a minor process requiring less than a minute of their time. As Google Analytics is a free service for all but the very largest organizations, it is commonly used by nonprofits as well as small to medium-sized businesses to track their online engagements and campaigns. Therefore, most instructors should be able to identify clients who use the platform. If for some reason instructor access is not possible, the assignment may easily be adapted to rely on Google Demo Account data. 

In preparation for this assignment, students take part in an instructor-led tour of the client’s Google Analytics account and data to familiarize themselves with the platform and standard reports. Special emphasis is placed on the overview reports for demographics and social media traffic. This tour takes place just after client discovery at the start of the course as we discuss the research stage of campaign planning and students read the “Formative Research” section of the assigned text (Smith, 2017). 

The reading complements a short lesson on public relations research and supporting theory, including the situational theory of publics and the four levels of activation publics (Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Grunig, 1997). The lesson notes that campaigns may target non-active publics and that through analysis of social media and analytics data, we can start to identify these levels of activity in the client’s online audiences. This theoretical connection is extended by asking students “Who is missing?” in relation to the client’s online publics. Thinking about inactive or latent publics as simply “missing” from the online data helps students understand that it is often just as important for practitioners to know who they are not reaching online, as it is to know about who they are, as those publics may be key to the organization (Hallahan, 2020). This critical consideration is incorporated into the assignment as a search for missing publics. Following this lesson and discussion, students are then ready to start their research, and the assignment serves as the official “kickoff” for their campaign project. Students access client analytics via a generic Gmail account set up by the instructor for this purpose and conduct searches to identify client social media accounts for observational analysis.

Evidence of Learning Outcomes

 Learning outcomes for this assignment are evidenced during the in-class workshop and in the students’ written research chapter of their client campaign proposals. Additionally, students are asked to prepare and present a short research report to their classmates following data collection and analysis for the research phase of the project. The research presentations allow students an opportunity to observe, critique, ask questions, and provide peer feedback and ideas for improvements. Finally, evidence for the efficacy of this assignment has been indicated in course evaluations as students noted they appreciated the opportunity to develop “real world” experience to understand how Google Analytics and social media auditing may be used in public relations research. Evidence of both positive learning outcomes and the value of the assignment have been provided by former client organizations through anecdotal feedback at the end of the semester following student presentations and review of final campaign proposals. According to one former class client, student research produced as part of this exercise included some “eye-openers” that helped them move beyond assumptions about their online audiences. 


Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Grunig, J. E. (1997). A situational theory of publics: Conceptual history, recent challenges and new research. In D. Moss, T. MacManus, & D. Vercic (Eds.), Public relations research: An international perspective (pp. 3–48). International Thomson Business Press.

Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive publics: The forgotten publics in public relations. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499–515. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0363-8111(00)00061-8

Smith, R. D. (2017). Strategic planning for public relations (5th ed.). Routledge.


Double-Sided Assignment Instructions & Worksheet 

Assignment: Audience Analysis (Identifying online publics)

Research Objective: Develop basic descriptions of the organization’s publics using Google Analytics and the client’s social media accounts to research. 

Time to complete: 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

This assignment helps provide the foundation for the Publics Analysis in the Research section of your campaign proposal. 

Assignment: For this assignment, you will analyze the client’s publics who are visible on owned social media accounts. You will also use Google Analytics to look at traffic visiting their website. Note the demographics represented and try to identify (by predominance) the primary public and secondary public currently engaged with their online efforts. Be sure to answer all the questions noted in the instructions!

  • Give each public a distinctive name that describes them demographically or by their interests (example: “Local enviro-loving millennials”). Record these on your worksheet. Also make notes of any observations about the behavior(s) of these publics that might inform your campaign (example: most engagement on the weekends). We will discuss our analysis during our next class. Be sure to turn in your worksheet when finished. (You may use the reverse of this worksheet or attach an additional sheet of paper if needed.)
  • Note any “missing” publics (example: ages, genders, locations the client serves that are not represented in current followers and traffic reports. (By “missing” publics, I’m referring to any groups not represented in the data we can access––but could be a target public that the organization desires to reach out to. Remember our discussion of active vs. inactive or unaware publics?) 

Social Media Analysis Instructions:

  1. Using the client website or Google search, identify ALL of the client’s social media accounts. (In addition, once these are found, go ahead and follow them (put yourself in the stream of the client’s social media communication!)
  2. Record the metrics from their platforms (example: 22,002 Facebook followers).
  3. Look at their social followers (user profiles)––who are they? Click on user profiles to see what you can see. Are they students? Employees? Where do they live? Try to discern some basic demos from these profiles, as well as where they live, interests, etc. Make notes on the back of this page.
  4. Then, try to find the most popular topics and/or posts. What is the conversation about? What content has generated the most comments or interactions (shares, etc.)?
  5. Examine at least two months of social media data. If possible, examine more (six months) to gain even more insight into their social audiences.

GA Analysis Instructions: 

  1. Log into Google Analytics (Gmail account – ____________ @gmail.com /password = _______.) BE SURE TO LOG OUT OF YOUR GMAIL & ALL GOOGLE ACCOUNTS (including Drive) FIRST!
  2.  Look at one year of data. Also look at demographics and simple data like time of day the website receives the most traffic. (To change dates, click on the dates in the top right and a box will open.)
  3. Where does most of their web traffic come from? (Go to “Acquisition” – then “Source/medium.”)
  4. How much of their traffic comes from social media and which platform drives the most visits? (“Social”– then “Networks.”)

REMEMBER – the goal of this assignment is to gather information for your publics research. The more detail, the better! Let me know if you need help with Google Analytics or anything else.

WORKSHEET – Please record your metrics and audience description notes below.

Platform Metrics

Facebook: Instagram:   Twitter: YouTube:

Other (list below):

Primary (Online) Public Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, interests, etc.)

Secondary (Online) Public Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, etc.)

Missing publics?

Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, etc.)

Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, etc.)

General observations: 

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Adams, M. (2020). Who’s out there? Using Google Analytics and social media data to research online publics.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 174-181. http://aejmc.us/jpre/2020/08/13/whos-out-there-using-google-analytics-and-social-media-data-to-research-online-publics/