Three Tips to Boost Your Survey Response Rate
Surveys matter only if people are willing to fill them out – and getting people to fill them out is not an easy task. There are many interesting distractions in the world! And there many silly surveys and junk surveys competing for people’s attention. When the time comes that you need important feedback via a survey, getting a sufficient response rate can be challenging.
Though relatively low response rates can yield statistically sound data (see our article, Do Response Rates Really Matter?) you need to have some data to work with. One organization we recently advised found itself with just two respondents for a do-it-yourself survey they launched, and unfortunately they lost the opportunity to go back into the field for another shot.
Based on our experience and what we have learned from the ever-evolving scientific literature on survey methods, here are three important steps you can take to improve your survey response rates:
1. Communicate. When you are ready to launch a survey, it is critical that you provide basic information to the people you are asking to fill it out, including:
- What the survey is about, and why you are fielding it
- Why they, in particular, were chosen to participate
- Why it is important for them to participate
- How the information will be used and reported
- With whom the information will be shared
- How long the survey will take for them to complete
- Whether their participation is anonymous or confidential
- What they will get in return
You need to keep your survey invitation short and to the point, but be sure to include these needed pieces of information.
2. Track. It is best if you have way of knowing who has responded to your survey so that you can follow up with reminders to those who have not responded. Even though low response rates can often yield good data, research shows that people who respond quickly or who respond to first invitations vs. second or third invitations are often unique and may skew your findings.
Depending on the survey, we typically suggest up to two or three reminders beyond the initial invitation. If possible, vary the mode (using phone, postcards, e-mail, etc.) and for the final reminders convey some sense of urgency (when the study is closing, for example, with a reminder of how valuable their input is).
Of course tracking means that participation is not anonymous. You’ll need to weigh your promise of confidentiality against this. One solution is to work with a third-party research firm like Versta Research that adheres to CASRO and AAPOR guidelines on ethics and privacy. This keeps you “arms-length” from the research, while still allowing a trusted source to track and follow up as needed.
3. Reward. Whenever possible, we suggest offering an incentive for people to participate in surveys. Why? Because it demonstrates that you are serious about needing them to participate, that you truly value their input, and that you recognize their time as being valuable.
In most cases the reward is a small token of thanks. It can take many forms: direct cash, internet gift cards, entry into a sweepstakes for a large prize, and so on. For B2B research, information is often a more valuable incentive than money. Business decision makers usually have an invested interest in the topic you are studying (that’s why you want them in your survey) and offering them a summary of some key data may be all the incentive they need to participate.
Need help? We have experience fielding hundreds of surveys, everything from consumer surveys and membership surveys to top-level business executive surveys – in person, by phone, online, fax, and by mail. Give us a call, and we are happy to advise you on sampling strategies, response rates, and other key issues that will affect the rigor of your survey.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.