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The Art of the Survey

1. You know what your audience is thinking:

a. Absolutely

b. Uhhh…

c. Never considered it

d. Who cares? Our work is brilliant!

Whether you’re a production company, business serving artists, or artistic business, it’s invaluable to have tangible feedback from your audiences in order to plan effectively and execute beautifully.

A survey is not just a research tool, or even a marketing research tool. It’s a marketing-marketing tool, building your brand and reputation. Any piece of communication your audience sees that you create falls under marketing, so even your surveys must be on-brand and send the right message about who you are, why you exist, and how it matters to your audience.

How to do this? Here are a few general guidelines for generating and sending surveys:

Keep it brief.

Do you absolutely need to know your audience’s annual income? What neighborhood they live in? If your survey is more than 10 brief, straightforward questions, you risk not getting the quality or quantity of answers you expect.

The way you ask shapes the way they answer.

Journalism 101: the organization of the facts equals the formation of the opinion. Rather than asking what an artist didn’t like about the class he or she just completed, I encourage my clients to ask, “What else would you have liked to cover?” or “What questions do you still have about the subject matter?” The former creates the impression that the course didn’t fall short, rather, the artist’s expectations may have been outsized; the latter is a sales tool so you know what else the artist might like to hire you to teach. Both maintain goodwill that the original product was exactly what they paid for.

Be crystal clear about what you are asking.

Avoid ambiguity. Get someone to proof-read so you will get the answers that fit what you need to find out. A question like “How did you like the show?” is ambiguous and unproductive; it could mean anything to anyone. How about “What theme affected you most?” or “How did this show compare to other shows you’ve seen recently?” or “What was the single most important thing you learned?”

Know when to go anonymous.

Want truly candid answers? Make your survey truly anonymous, whether online or handwritten. If you want to follow up with people or use their feedback in meetings or marketing, you must disclose this at the start.

Respect the audience.

Don’t you hate it when you visit a website for the first time and a pop-up asks you to complete a survey? Perhaps you haven’t built enough rapport with a given audience to ask them for their time and input. Subscribers are valid (once a year max); one-time ticket buyers are usually not. At minimum, these different audiences should get different surveys, tailored to their interests and experience.

Timing is everything.

A few pointers on when NOT to send a survey:

  • Passing out a questionnaire as the audience exits the theatre. Buzzkill. The whole purpose of creating art is to affect your audience, and make a lasting impression. Handing them a quiz five minutes after a show is like turning on the TV after a romantic dinner -- don't ruin the mood.

  • More than once a year to your general audience. Let them be your audience, not your focus group.

  • While you’re marketing your show. Too late! Do this at least a month before marketing hits so you can use it, and so there’s a healthy pause for the audience between being asked to give feedback and asked to buy.

Got survey experiences to share?  Post them in the comments below.