October 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA3

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Preferred Information Delivery Methods of North Carolina Forest Landowners

The choice of information delivery method used by an Extension educator may have serious consequences for program effectiveness. Some fear that using one information delivery method may alienate those who prefer another. Through a mail survey of forest landowners, the study reported here identified five distinct groups based on their information delivery method preferences. The study also identified associations between delivery method preferences and socio-demographics, land ownership, and management experience of landowners. Connecting these characteristics with landowner preferences for information delivery methods allows Extension educators to identify delivery methods that are most likely to be effective in reaching this audience.

Robert E. Bardon
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
Raleigh, North Carolina

Dennis Hazel
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
Raleigh, North Carolina

Kevin Miller
Extension Agent, Natural Resources
Catawba County
Newton, North Carolina

North Carolina State University


Dynamic forestland ownership patterns and increased demands for forest products together emphasize the need to deliver relevant forestry information to a growing and changing non-industrial private forestland (NIPF) owner population. North Carolina's NIPF population is estimated at 479,000 (Brown, New, Oswalt, Johnson, & Rudis, 2006). Giving one-on-one attention to each forestland owner would best satisfy their diverse needs, but would be impossible to accomplish. Since one-on-one attention is impractical, Extension educators will need to deploy other methods of information delivery in order to reach NIPF clientele.

Researchers suggest using a diversity of information delivery methods to reach clientele, but particular information delivery methods must be matched with target audiences to insure their efficacy (Egan, Welch, Page, & Sebastian, 1992; Rodewald, 2001; Londo & Gaddis, 2003; Radhakrishna, Nelson, Franklin, & Kessler, 2003; Cartmell II, Orr, & Kelemen, 2006). The choice of information delivery method used by an Extension educator may have serious consequences for program effectiveness. Some fear that using one information delivery method may alienate those who prefer another and particularly that "high-tech approaches may intimidate certain groups of clientele (e.g., older clientele)" (Rodewald, 2001). Because so many delivery methods are available today, the preference of the clientele for a particular method may be difficult to predict.

The purpose of the study reported here was to identify preferences for information delivery methods among groups of North Carolina's non-industrial private forest landowners and to investigate these groups for descriptive socio-demographic, land, or management experience characteristics. If information delivery method preferences can be linked with socio-demographic, land ownership, or management characteristics, educational efforts can be directed at specific groups of landowners using the methods they prefer.


Data for this analysis came from a 2005 mail survey of 2600 NIPF landowners from 13 counties. The 13 counties, selected using a stratified random sample, were chosen from a population of 100 counties distributed between seven Cooperative Extension districts. A stratified random sampling of the counties was done to ensure that all regions of the state were represented (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Distribution of 13 North Carolina Counties (Shaded Counties) Selected Through Stratified Random Sampling Across Seven Cooperative Extension Districts

Within each county, 200 landowners were randomly selected from the 2004 present use-value tax records. Surveys were mailed to all 2,600 landowners, with a reminder postcard sent to the recipients 3 weeks after the original mailing. Late respondents were given the option to send in the original survey, request an additional survey by mail or telephone, or use a Web address on the postcard to access an identical copy of the survey that could be completed online.

The survey instrument was designed based on previous studies of NIPF owners (Birch, 1996) and using Surveying the Social World: Principles and Practice in Survey Research (Aldridge & Levine, 2001). Prior to mailing the survey it was reviewed by 10 people of various backgrounds to include local landowners, graduate students, natural resource professionals who work with the public, and North Carolina State University faculty members.

The survey asked participants about their preferences for information delivery methods, their socio-demographics, their land, and their forest management experience. The six information delivery methods included mail-based material, Web-based material, short programs, long programs, landowner association participation, and distance education. Mail-based material was defined as newsletters, brochures, compact discs, Extension publications, and magazine articles. Web-based material was defined as Web-site reading, downloadable publications, or streaming video. Short programs were defined as evening or less than half-day seminars or workshops at county facilities. Long programs were defined as full day/multiple day field site visits or demonstrations. Participation in a landowner association was considered self-explanatory. Distance education was defined as Web-based landowner courses, video-based landowner courses, or textbook-based correspondence courses. The options were not mutually exclusive.

Respondents were asked to rank each information delivery method on a 4-point continuum somewhere between would never use and would often use. The 4-point continuum interval is by one. Socio-demographics factors included gender, age, marital status, occupation, number of children below the age of 18, income, and education. Land ownership factors included acreage owned, land ownership tenure, resident or absentee landowner, and primary residence location. Forest management factors included past forest management experience, future plans for forest management, sources from which forestry information is obtained, and income needs from their forestland.

The definition of "past experience" refers to forest management practices previously undertaken, and the definition of "future plans" refers to the likelihood that a landowner will practice forest management on their land in the future. Both "past experience" and "future plans" were ranked on 10-point continuums, with "past experience" ranked somewhere between "not at all experienced" and "very experienced" and "future plans" ranked some where between "not at all likely" and "very likely". Each 10-point continuum's interval is by one. Nearly all survey questions inherently had categorical responses; the few that did not, age, land ownership tenure, and acreage owned, were categorized using Birch's (1996) classifications.

A K-means cluster analysis (SAS, 1999) was performed using only respondents' preference for information delivery methods. To investigate differences among clusters with regard to socio-demographics, land characteristics, and management experience, contingency tables analysis (SAS, 1999) was used. To determine whether or not clusters were statistically significantly different with respect to a given question, Pearson's Chi-Square was used.


Results of the study are based on 460 returned questionnaires, those in which respondents answered all questions about information delivery methods and claimed at least one acre of forestland. The response rate was 17.7%.

K-means cluster analysis identified five groups of landowners that were cohesive with respect to preference for information delivery methods. Figure 2 shows the likelihood that a member of a given cluster will use a particular information delivery method. Each cluster has been given a memorable name that helps describe the preferred method of information delivery. The "Don't Bother Me" cluster is unlikely to use any information delivery method. The "Snail-Mailers" prefer only mail-based information delivery. The "Short-Mailers" prefer mail-based materials and short programs. The "Web-Mailers" are most likely to use mail-based information and the Internet. Finally, the "Fan Club" cluster will likely use any information delivery method.

Figure 2.
Preferred Method of Information Delivery of North Carolina Forest Landowners by Clusters

Contingency table analysis resulted in the identification of several socio-demographic characteristics that differed significantly across clusters (Table 1). These characteristics were retirement status, marital status, number of children under 18, age, occupation, income, and education. Gender was not significantly different among clusters at the 0.05 level (p = 0.12), indicating that each landowner cluster contained relatively the same ratio of males to females. Landowners in the "Don't Bother Me" cluster, "Snail-Mailers" cluster, and "Short-Mailers" cluster were more likely to be retired than the landowners in the "Web-Mailers" or "Fan Club" clusters. "Web-Mailers" landowners and "Fan Club" landowners were more likely to be married and have children under the age of 18. A similar pattern is seen with age class, occupation, income, and education, where "Web-Mailers" and "Fan Club" landowners dominated the lower age classes, have higher ratio of landowners in white-collar occupations, in upper income classes, and higher education levels.

Table 1.
Percent Respondents With in Each Cluster by Socio-Demographic Characteristics

Socio-Demographic CharacteristicsDon't Bother MeSnail-MailersShort-MailersWeb-MailersFan Clubp-value
Have Children3.2%7.4%9.2%23.7%21.6%0.001
Age Classes (years)<0.0001
Blue Collar16.1%13.7%14.7%11.4%17.1%
White Collar9.7%11.6%15.6%38.6%34.2%
less than $10,0000.0%4.2%0.9%0.0%0.9%
$10,000 to $39,99925.8%25.3%22.9%10.5%16.2%
$40,000 to $69,99922.6%23.2%22.0%19.3%28.8%
$70,000 to $99,99916.1%12.6%16.5%18.4%18.0%
more than $100,00016.1%11.6%21.1%41.2%30.6%
some high school6.5%8.4%6.4%1.8%0.0%
high school graduate29.0%18.9%22.0%3.5%8.1%
some college16.1%24.2%23.9%21.1%30.6%
undergraduate degree25.8%31.6%28.4%37.7%38.7%
graduate degree19.4%13.7%16.5%28.1%18.0%

Contingency table analysis revealed that clusters differed by acreage class and land ownership tenure, but not by location of primary residence (p = 0.13) or residence on their forestland (p = 0.13) (Table 2). The "Don't Bother Me" cluster and "Snail-Mailers" cluster consisted of landowners predominantly in the smaller acreage classes and dominated the longer tenure classes. Landowners in the "Short-Mailers," "Web-Mailers," and "Fan Club" clusters also owned land in the smaller acreage classes but had a greater ratio of landowners with in the larger acreage classes, 100 acres and larger. "Short-Mailers," "Web-Mailers," and "Fan Club" clusters had fewer landowners in the older tenure classes, tenure classes prior to 1960.

Table 2.
Percent Respondents Within Each Cluster by Land Ownership Characteristics

Land Ownership CharacteristicsDon't Bother MeSnail-MailersShort-MailersWeb-MailersFan Clubp-value
Acreage Class0.01
Tenure Since0.05
Pre 1940-19496.5%3.2%3.7%1.8%1.8%

Analysis of the clusters' forest management experience characteristics revealed four key areas of differences: past management experience, future plans for management, the percent of the cluster's respondents who require income from their forestland, and sources from which forestry information has been obtained (Table 3). Three information sources, Forest Industry (p = 0.06), Logger/Timber Buyer (p = 0.74), and Neighbors (p = 0.13), were not significantly different among clusters at the 0.05 level.

Landowners in the "Don't Bother Me" cluster and "Snail-Mailers" cluster were less likely to have past management experience, less likely to have future plans for forest management, and less likely to required income from their land. Their top four sources for information received were State Forest Service, consulting foresters, Cooperative Extension, and logger/timber buyer. The "Short-Mailers," "Web-Mailers," and "Fan Club" clusters consisted of landowners much more involved with their land. These clusters had more landowners who have past management experience, future plans for forest management, and were more likely to require income from their land. The "Short-Mailers," "Web-Mailers," and "Fan Club" top four sources for forestry information were State Forest Service, consulting foresters, Cooperative Extension and logger/timber buyer.

Table 3.
Percent Respondents Within Each Cluster by Forest Management Experience Characteristics

Forest Management CharacteristicsDon't Bother MeSnail-MailersShort-MailersWeb-MailersFan Clubp-value
Past Experience*22.6%29.5%47.7%40.4%55.9%0.01
Future Plans*38.7%52.6%78.9%89.5%95.5%<0.0001
Require Income22.6%28.4%37.6%32.5%45.9%0.05
Information Sources      
State Forest Service38.7%54.7%70.6%57.0%65.8%0.01
Consulting Forester25.8%32.6%52.3%47.4%57.7%0.001
Coop. Extension29.0%32.6%56.9%37.1%67.6%<0.0001
Logger/Timber Buyer45.2%44.2%48.6%42.1%50.5%0.74
Forest Industry12.9%11.6%14.7%13.2%25.2%0.06
Environmental Group9.7%2.1%14.7%14.0%19.8%0.01
Conservation Group9.7%3.2%25.7%21.1%23.4%0.0001
Federal Agencies12.9%14.7%22.9%14.0%33.3%0.01
Landowner Assoc.9.7%8.4%13.8%12.3%23.4%0.05
* Questions on past and future management were answered using a 1 to 10 scale where 1 is lowest and 10 is highest. The listed percentage is the ratio of respondents who answered 6 or higher.


Krejcie and Morgan (1970) indicate that a sample size equal to 384 is statistically representative of a population of 1 million individuals. In North Carolina, the NIPF landowner population is estimated to be 479,000 owners (Brown, New, Oswalt, Johnson, & Rudis, 2006). Based on Krejcie and Morgan (1970), the response rate of the study reported here is statistically representative of North Carolina's NIPF owners.

Cluster analysis determined that there are five groups of landowners with respect to information delivery method preferences in North Carolina. One of the clusters, the "Don't Bother Me" cluster, expressed very little interest in any information delivery method or in managing their forestland. Because of this, the "Don't Bother Me" cluster is likely to be very difficult to reach. They only constitute 7% of the respondents, so expending effort to direct educational efforts at this group of people will be costly for the amount of impact that could be expected.

A second cluster, the "Fan Club" cluster, expressed interest in all information delivery methods. This group represents 23% of respondents and consists of landowners in all acreage classes, with a majority in the 100-500 acre class. A majority of respondents in this cluster have received forestry information from Cooperative Extension, State Forest Service, consulting foresters, and loggers/timber buyers. These landowners will not require Extension educators to target them with a specific information delivery method in order to be reached; information delivery methods targeted at other groups will reach this group.

The three remaining clusters, "Snail-Mailers," "Short-Mailers," and "Web-Mailers," which represent 21%, 24%, and 25% of the respondents, respectively, have particular preferences for methods of information delivery, and each has characteristics that allow for the identification of these target audiences. By being able to identify specific audiences among these three clusters and targeting them with their preferred delivery method, Extension educators will be most effective in delivering forestry education.


Approximately 21% of respondents were classified as "Snail-Mailers." "Snail-Mailers" prefer mail-based information to all other delivery methods. Nearly two-thirds of this cluster is over 66 years old. More than two-thirds of this cluster is retired. Compared with "Short-Mailers" and "Web-Mailers", the "Snail-Mailers" cluster has a higher percentage of respondents (29.5%) who earned less than $40,000 in 2004, likely because many members of this cluster are retired (68.4%).

To reach this cluster most effectively, Extension educators should specifically target retirees. Educational information should be developed that can be direct mailed, such as newsletters and information pamphlets. Other possibilities for information delivery include newspapers, magazines, or journals.

Two-thirds of this cluster claims not to have received forestry information from the Cooperative Extension Service in the past, so Forestry Educators from Cooperative Extension can team with Family and Consumer Science Educators from Cooperative Extension, local community colleges, or other local community organizations that focus on retirees and lifelong-learners to develop, market, and deliver forestry information. Other opportunities exist for forestry educators to develop, market, and deliver educational programs by teaming with State Forest Service personnel, who have provided forestry information to more than 50% of this landowner group. Using mail as the preferred delivery method and teaming with organizations that target retirees may result in the greatest impact on delivery of forestry information to this audience.


"Short-Mailers" are most likely to use mail-based information and short programs such as half-day seminars or workshops. They constitute approximately 24% of respondents. They are somewhat similar socio-demographically to the "Snail-Mailers," but slightly younger and with a lower percentage of retirees. Aside from their willingness to attend short programs, "Short-Mailers" have experience with managing their forestland, have future plans for forest management, and many of them require income from their forestland. Nearly half own more than 100 acres of forestland and have owned that land for more than 25 years.

Over 70% of "Short-Mailers" have received information from the State Forest Service. The fact that so many of the "short-Mailers" have received information from the State Forest Service provides an opportunity for Cooperative Extension to collaborate with the state agency in developing and marketing forestry educational programs. Contact information for landowners who have sought technical and financial assistance from the State Forest Service can be compiled and used for marketing short programs. Because almost half of this group requires income from its forestland, they are likely interested in educational programs related to the monetary aspect of forestland ownership. Programs focused on timber marketing, selling timber, taxes, recreational income opportunities, and non-timber forest products may be of interest to this group.


The final focus cluster is the "Web-Mailers." This cluster constitutes 25% of respondents and prefers mail-based and Web-based information delivery. They are significantly younger, more likely to be married, more likely to have children, and less likely to be retired than members of the other focus clusters. Sixty percent of this cluster makes more than $70,000 per year, and two-thirds of "Web-Mailers" have at least a four-year college degree. Ninety percent of this group expressed that they are likely to manage their forestland in the future.

Many "Web-Mailers" have job or family responsibilities that can limit their ability to attend programs. However, cost-effective, non-traditional methods such as Internet-based information delivery may be effective in increasing their knowledge about forestry and forest management. For Extension educators, these landowners may be the hardest to connect with because there is no existing agency or organization with which this group of landowners may be associated. To reach this cluster, areas of high income and high levels of education should be targeted; this would include urban centers, universities, and community colleges. Advertising of Internet-based resources through newspapers and professional journals may also increase the chance of reaching this audience.


Results of thee study reported here revealed five distinct groups of landowners with particular preferences for information delivery methods. These groups include landowners who have little desire to receive forestry information, those who prefer to receive their forestry information through the mail only, those who prefer to receive forestry information through short educational programs lasting less than half a day, those who prefer obtaining their forestry information through Internet-based resources, and those who are likely to use all forms of information delivery.

The study identified associations between delivery method preferences and other characteristics of landowners, including socio-demographics, land ownership, and management experience. Connecting easily identifiable landowner characteristics with landowner preferences for information delivery methods allows Extension educators to identify delivery methods that are most likely to be effective in reaching their target audience.

By delivering information to the audience based on the audience's preferred method, Extension educators can have a greater impact in reaching their audience. By relying upon associations between landowner characteristics and delivery method preferences, educators can meet the changing needs of a dynamic NIPF population by matching their audiences with delivery methods most likely to be effective. They can save money and time by targeting specific groups of people with specific information delivery methods.


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