Using SMS Texts for Surveys
Even just a few years ago the idea of using SMS text messaging for surveys seemed absurd. There were strong demographic skews to cell phone usage, and among SMS usage as well. Texting was often a cost add-on for cell phone users, so they carefully guarded it. And of course research companies could barely manage even Internet surveys via mobile devices—speak nothing of SMS—and many still can’t.
That has changed quickly, and so researchers have started exploring SMS text messages as a way to either conduct surveys or notify and invite people to surveys. Does it work? Surprisingly, recently published research suggests that it does. Pulling (and sometimes quoting) from four published studies—all listed at the bottom of this article, and all originating from a solid academic side of survey research—here is what we know:
- Studies using text messages to support other means of data collection have concluded that text messaging is beneficial in increasing participation and response rates
- Even if texting does not improve ultimate response rates, it improves response time and boosts the number of respondents who complete via mobile device
- Compared to a phone survey responses, texted responses may lead to higher quality data, as defined by fewer rounded numerical answers, more differentiated answers to a battery of questions, and more disclosure of sensitive information
- Respondents who opt for text-based surveys report strong preference for future interviews by text
- Text survey responses are more focused and less distracted, as there is less multi-tasking during the survey
- SMS surveys take twice as long for respondents to complete as phone surveys
- Text message invitations do not distort respondent demographic composition
In the US, companies must obtain consent from potential respondents before sending automated texts (thank goodness), so texting will not be a way of finding the elusive “probability sample” that some in our industry believe still exists. But the research so far suggests that SMS texts may become another powerful mode of outreach and recruitment when carefully (and respectfully) designed to ask people to take our surveys.
- Pew Research Center, September 2016, “Text Message Notification for Web Surveys”
- Schober MF, Conrad FG, Antoun C, Ehlen P, Fail S, Hupp AL, et al. (2015) Precision and Disclosure in Text and Voice Interviews on Smartphones. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128337. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128337
- Dal Grande E, Chittleborough CR, Campostrini S, Dollard M, Taylor AW (2016) Pre-Survey Text Messages (SMS) Improve Participation Rate in an Australian Mobile Telephone Survey: An Experimental Study. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0150231. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150231
- Hoe N. and H. Grunwald. 2015. The Role of Automated SMS Text Messaging in Survey Research. Survey Practice. 8 (5)