Why Your Communications Team Should Be Leveraging Surveys – Plus 5 Tips for an Optimized Survey

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Mark Simon - featuredBy Mark Simon, Managing Director of North America and Digital, Toluna

The way we consume news is changing. Twenty-five percent of 18-24 year-olds rely on social media for their news and, as of October 2015, the New York Times reached the remarkable milestone of more than 1 million digital-only subscribers. This transformation isn’t confined to Millennials or Gen Z – my 70 year old father told me recently that he can’t remember the last time he read his news from a newspaper – it’s happening across all age groups.

As partners and colleagues of the media, it’s important for communications professionals to help the media adjust to and enter the digital era, while also ensuring their brands are doing the same. I know that many communications pros do this in a number of ways, from sharing videos, images and infographics with their reporter friendlies, to generating their own snackable content on owned blogs and social media sites. So what else can PR be doing to generate digital era-worthy content?

One area many PR pros may not have considered is research. I know that at first blush “research” doesn’t exactly sound exciting, but we are in an age when not only is content king, but data is king. The reason for this is because our society has access to more connected data than ever before. This means the communications industry should also be leveraging data on behalf of its brands and clients for improved media exposure. One fun and informative method for gathering research and data is to conduct DIY surveys.

Survey research and survey platforms have come such a long way in recent years such that you don’t need to commission an expensive market research firm to develop data to support your PR activities – you can do it yourself. Survey research today is free, easy and oftentimes provides real-time results. Further, DIY does not equate to low quality research. Many DIY survey tools are modeled after those respected and acknowledged by market researchers, so users never have to worry that the data is erroneous. Lastly, by issuing a survey centered around your brand and market, you can gather data on the issues that matter most to you.

DIY surveys as a tool for communications professionals can fall into three key areas:

• From a proactive perspective, you can leverage data to back up a thought leadership position, supporting your story and messaging with data and consumer insight.
• From a reactive perspective, survey data can help set the agenda during a crisis, where direct interaction with consumers can set the story straight before the media can form an opinion.
• Also from a reactive perspective, consumer data allows for rapid response communications, enabling you to solicit feedback following a breaking news event in your industry.

With all that said, here are some important tips to consider when issuing a DIY survey.

1. Have a narrative structure and flow within the survey in order to be able to tell a compelling story that is worth reading. Start with a few broad questions that not only help establish the basics of the audience’s background and point of view, but also to weed out any participants who fall outside the target market. In the remaining questions, drill down deeper into the crux of the story.

2. Be mobile-versed. Use a DIY survey platform with an easy-to-use mobile app to enable participants to complete surveys anywhere, anytime. Similarly, you can make your survey mobile-native by limiting the number of open ended questions to one to two per survey, and by limiting the total number of questions to five to 15.

3. Keep it short and focused. A common pitfall to avoid is building surveys that ask too much of a respondent at one time, leading to the respondent answering in a haphazard manner, which dramatically diminishes the value of the data. A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of questions to between five and 15.

4. Never ask a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. It won’t result in compelling data – plain and simple.

5. Consider asking the same “golden” questions over time – across a number of surveys – to track changes and trends within the data.

6. Put yourself in the respondent’s shoes by considering taking the survey yourself as a test. If you wouldn’t want to answer all of the questions you’re asking, whether because of length or content, chances are your respondents won’t want to either.

Following these basic tips helps enhance the survey experience for respondents, which improves the quality and accuracy of the responses. In fact, 76 percent of survey takers claim that a more interactive experience will keep them more interested and less likely to drop out.

Research technology can unlock new potential by helping communications pros and brands leverage consumer opinions. Ultimately, the process of gathering DIY research can benefit a brand, the brand’s media contacts and the brand’s customers, all in one, by generating accurate, actionable data. Further, consumers today want instant gratification – and the media knows this. What better way to demonstrate value to a top journalist than by reacting to industry news with real-time survey results from your brand?

About the Author: Mark has been with Toluna since 2005, and took on the role of Managing Director for Toluna North America in 2013. He is also the Managing Director of Toluna Digital. Before joining Toluna, Mark worked for Greenfield Online, a pioneer in internet research (and subsequently acquired by Toluna in 2009). 

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