Convincing People to Take Your Survey
One of the weirdest things about research is how the everyday nature of our work keeps changing as a result of the problems we solve. A colleague on the corporate side recently shared an observation that I found unsettling: With her customer experience research now fully automated, even down to the “analyses” via quick dashboard reports, her challenge is now more operational. Survey response rates are miserably low (alas, at least partly a consequence of having automated everything!) and so her job is now merely getting people to respond.
Two weeks later, along comes an article from one of the giants in academic survey research, Norman Bradburn, who relates exactly the same thing: “Today the challenges confronting the survey researcher are dominated by the difficulty in locating sample persons and getting them to respond at all.”
The next knowledge frontier for survey research is to solve this problem. We know a great deal about sampling theory, statistical inference, Bayesian statistics, as well as the cognitive processes by which people respond to survey questions. We know how answer scales work, how to segment and analyze data, how to model choice behavior, and so on. We have a deep understanding of mode effects, and we know that online surveys work.
Now we must turn our attention to “the social milieu in which the potential respondents live and for the changing modes of communication by which they are contacted.” Bradburn thus proposes new research into the social psychology of getting people to say yes to our surveys.
He proposes three stages of social interaction where we must focus our efforts:
The first five seconds. What are the signals, words, intonations, dialects, formats and formalities that can gain sympathetic attention from potential respondents, or turn them away?
The introduction. How should we present information about the research and in what order? What content is crucial, and how do we “connect” with potential respondents to sustain the interaction as we try to persuade?
Requesting participation and securing cooperation. How do we frame the importance of the research and the arguments for participation, including incentives?
These small matters are big questions, and we, too, find ourselves spending much more time on them than we have in the past. I’m glad to know that as Versta Research devotes time and talent to solving them, we are in good company and at the forefront of a new frontier solving the thorniest research problems.