Usenet-Driven Audience Research: A Strategy Enhancement Guide

If you run a business, you need to know your customers. Audience research is key to targeting the right people and finding the best way to connect with them. While there are tons of ways to conduct audience research, Usenet is often overlooked as a valuable resource. However, Usenet has a lot of advantages that can help a marketing team to better understand their audience and what they look for in a product or service. Let’s explore how you can use Usenet to help get a better understanding of your audience.

Why Explore Usenet?​

Usenet is a global network with millions of users, most of whom are highly dedicated to their interests (enough that they are willing to pay for a subscription to discuss them) and more Internet savvy than most people online. Unfortunately, because Usenet isn’t as popular as it once was, users are often ignored by marketing departments that could be reaching a largely untapped audience. Data on Usenet is highly organized, making research easier. And since retention rates are so high on the best providers, there is more than a decade’s worth of historical data to look at to identify trends.

Conducting Segmentation Research​

Usenet is organized by topic category. The largest grouping is referred to as the “Big 8 Hierarchies” and splits newsgroups (forums for specific topics) among them in increasingly granular fashion.  For example, the “rec.*” hierarchy is for recreational topics. You can find newsgroups for sports, television, music, and other activities just done for fun. Newsgroups that deal with sports would be found in “rec.sport.*” and newsgroups about soccer would be in “rec.sport.soccer”.


Because of the structure of Usenet, it’s fairly easy to determine basic psychographics of users, including interests, values, and lifestyle. In many ways, users have voluntarily segmented themselves into psychographic categories by participating in various newsgroups. Depending on the hierarchy and newsgroups you choose, you can learn more about the political leanings of a cross section of users, their hobbies, emerging trends, and general sentiments.

Behavioral Data​

This is a little more difficult to get directly, but you can see an outline of behaviors including buying habits and online use by examining Usenet activity. People often discuss recent purchases, how likely they are to pre-order, what they are excited about, and how they tend to buy. Simply looking at the frequency of posts can often give you an idea of how often a person is online, and that can be extrapolated out to a larger group with additional data.


This is the hardest data to pin down because Usenet users can maintain their anonymity fairly easily and don’t have to share this type of data. However, there are ways to leverage newsgroups into demographic information. For example, soc.women is going to be mostly populated by women, so demographic information can at least be estimated from that. Soc.women.lesbian-and-bi gives more specific demographic data.

Survey Pool​

There is potential for a huge pool to get voluntary surveys from on Usenet. We cannot stress enough that members of various newsgroups tend to be very passionate about whatever the topic is and will frequently jump at the opportunity to contribute to market research around their favorite product, show, books, etc. Often, it only takes a simple request to get huge amounts of data on likes and dislikes, brand awareness, product perception, associations, sentiment, and more. Unlike focus groups and in-person paid surveys, these can often be collected for free. Of course, this does require careful survey creation. Identifying general sentiments, for example, isn’t something that online surveys are particularly good at, because the respondents are self-selected for a particular interest or demographic. However, Usenet is ideal for unearthing details about a segmented group that you already know a little about. A newsgroup about science fiction books won’t give you meaningful data about users’ favorite genre (you already know it), but it can help identify a preference for hard or soft sci-fi, optimistic or pessimistic futures, emerging sub-genres, and authors that haven’t become famous yet.

Persona Development​

The information on Usenet can be invaluable in personal development. The more time you spend in newsgroups, the more likely you are to notice general trends in behaviors, responses, and interest levels. This can help you develop marketing personas that will narrow your strategies and improve ad targeting.

Bottom Line​

If you’re not on Usenet, you’re missing out on a lot of incredibly valuable marketing data. A complex cross section of humanity finds a digital home in various newsgroups. They are passionate, well-informed, and eager to be a part of their favorite interests. If those happen to match with your industry, why not sign up for an account and see what you can learn on Usenet?