Because so much depends on people actually completing your surveys, this is where even the most carefully-constructed plan can begin to unravel—especially for products or sites without an established user base. A quick search for “How to find online survey participants” brings up more questions than answers. In fact, the majority of search results are people asking this same question on forums, and the answers they receive are most often scammy, spammy, and just plain complicated. This chapter is designed to spare you that fate.

Ensuring that your survey gets an adequate number of participants is a two-part process. First, you must locate a source. Your source for participants will naturally depend on your survey goals—for example, a net promoter survey wouldn’t rely on participants who’ve never heard of your product or service. How could they possibly have any real opinion?

As we discussed in Chapters 4 and 6, who you ask is as important as what you ask, so rather than using every source we discuss in this chapter, go through and identify the ones that will yield your ideal participants.

All participant sources fall into one of the following categories:

1. Established – These are resources you already have. Some ways of taking advantage of established sources include:

  • Emailing surveys or survey links to your list of newsletter subscribers.
  • Asking website traffic to participate via an on-site survey (which by default relies on this established source).
  • Inviting customers to participate after they complete checkout.
  • Emailing a follow-up after customers receive their orders.
  • Posting calls for participants via your networks-Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram and so on.

2. Incentivized – Rather than recruiting participants yourself, some sites provide them for a fee. But because users are paid per survey, there is risk involved here, as some users alter their demographic profiles, sign up using multiple email addresses, or rush through and randomly check answers—all to quickly complete more surveys and thus make more money. The data resulting from these surveys would be useless and potentially harmful if it led you in the wrong direction.

Still, if you don’t have an established traffic source—for example, if you’re surveying to see if there’s a market for your new product—you will need to find participants one way or another. Luckily there are some more trustworthy options, many of which we’ll cover fully in Chapter 11. They include:

  • Basic survey software packages that offer participants who are paid or rewarded in some way to take surveys, including:
    • Ask Your Target Market (AYTM)
    • SurveyMonkey
    • Mechanical Turk
  • Craigslist and other forums offer access to respondents willing to offer feedback for incentives.
  • Many advanced software choices, such as Qualtrics, allow you to purchase respondents.

3. A Combination of the Two – Supplement established traffic sources with paid traffic from Facebook ads, Google Adwords, and the like. While this allows you to ensure that your survey has the highest potential for participation, it can also lead to skewed results since, as we’ve already discussed, who you choose to survey depends on what you want to find out. In general, surveys that call for an established user base have little relevance to those who know nothing of a product or service (and vice versa).

If you already have an established source of survey participants, simply inviting 500 people to participate does little good if no one actually completes your survey. That’s why the second half of the participant equation involves providing users with compelling reasons to participate and answer your questions.

Here’s a handful of ways to ensure your efforts to acquire survey participants aren’t in vain:

1. To show users that their feedback truly matters to you, make it as personalized as possible —“Dear Ms. Smith,” for example, is preferable to “Dear Valued Customer.” According to Jennifer Jensen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at SUNY-Albany, “emails with a personal salutation result in increased response rates of at least five percent, and sometimes much higher.”

This is because, as we’ve already discussed, an established relationship between you and your participants increases the likelihood of their completing your survey. Using a personal salutation reminds them of this relationship if it exists and helps to foster it if it doesn’t. Any efforts on your part to create or foster this relationship will help to encourage a higher response rate.

2. Keep it simple. Whether it’s an on-site survey, an email invitation to a survey, a link via social media, or something else entirely—provide only essential information, without anything to add extra confusion or uncertainty.

For example, an email invitation should only include:

  • Who you are and what the survey is for.
  • How the survey will benefit both the user and your business.
  • Approximately how long the survey will take. If it’s short, awesome! If not, don’t lie and say it is. Users are more likely to stick it out if they know how much of their time you’ll be taking up.
  • A privacy statement.

Here’s an example of an emailed survey invitation that combines all these elements:

Dear John,

Educational Testing Service is conducting a brief survey with GRE test takers about their experiences after taking the GRE. The survey should only take about 5 minutes to complete.

Your responses are very important to ETS and will be used to help guide the development of new product and service offerings to future test takers. All survey responses will be kept strictly confidential.

3. As much as possible, keep it short. Questions themselves shouldn’t be longer than necessary, and the entire survey shouldn’t be more than ten questions unless you absolutely can’t avoid it. Remember, a handful of short surveys is preferable to one giant survey, so identify your highest-priority questions and deal with those first, then survey again once you’ve put that insight to good use.

4. Offer whatever incentive you can afford. Whether it’s a gift certificate, a discount code, a small voucher to be applied toward a future purchase from your store, a donation to charity, a chance in a raffle, or simply the knowledge that their feedback is highly valued and will be used to better your product or service. The data is clear that incentives don’t have to be huge to positively affect response rates. (Source)

As an added bonus, a promotion code, discount code, or gift certificate to your store means users will be more likely to shop with you in the future.

5. As we discussed in Chapter 6, visual elements can have a big impact on survey participants. Use these visual elements to your advantage by including an image of your incentive (if you’re using one) on the survey’s introductory page.

6. Timing is key. For on-site surveys, be sure the placement of your survey isn’t causing added friction at a critical point in your user flow. If, for example, they’re signing in to complete a task, a survey might be seen as an unnecessary impediment. Wait until their task is completed before showing them your survey.

7. Consider emailing or publishing your survey results online for participants. For some people access to survey results will work like an incentive.

If you only take one thing away from this chapter, let it be this: people don’t want to feel like you’re wasting their time. If you do a good job of making clear what you want from them and why, most of the time they’ll be more than happy to spend a bit of time answering your questions. But it’s your responsibility not to misuse the time they’re giving you with unnecessary questions, redundant options, a lack of clarity or gratitude, and so on.

If at all possible, rely on an established user base. Since you already have a relationship with these people, they’re more likely to want to help you out. Sometimes it’s necessary to use incentivized participants. When that’s the case, it’s important to be smart about the services you use in order to ensure that your survey results are as accurate as possible.

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