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To Reward, or Not to Reward?

To Reward, or Not to Reward?

Everyone would like response rates to be as close to 100% as possible. Higher response rates mean we bother fewer people while carrying out our research, and typically our costs of gathering those responses decline accordingly. Response rates are often assumed to reflect a representation of a given population.

But a 100% response rate for a tiny corner of a population isn’t as valid as a low response rate within a sampling frame (the starting point for survey invitations) with great coverage. To put it another way, having 100% response rate from people who all love chocolate to a survey on likelihood to purchase a new chocolate candy may not provide responses that are as useful for determining projected sales of the new candy as from a 5% response rate to the same survey from a pool of respondents that represent average shoppers in the U.S.

A large number of survey researchers try to boost response rates by offering some sort of reward for completing a survey. A lot of academic research suggests that offering some sort of reward can initially increase completion rates.  However, the same literature indicates that once you reward people for a task, they often won’t do the same task in the future without a reward.  In other words, rewards can help the first time you ask, but may hurt during later attempts to interview the same people.  What does this mean for you?  Use rewards when you need a one-time survey fielded quickly and avoid rewards when you expect to interview the same people with any sort of regularity.

Additionally, a fair amount of psychology literature shows that incentives, particularly cash, can reduce people’s intrinsic motivation to do things, leading to more careless responding and that can mean potentially poorer quality data.

All of that said, rewarding survey takers can still be right for certain projects. Sweepstakes are an easy way to incent people to action that does not increase in cost as more people respond to your survey. However, there are a whole host of legal and fulfillment requirements involved with sweepstakes—these rules and regulations can also differ by country and state.  Just as we’ve done with making the survey creation and analysis process easier, we’ve now made the process of offering an incentive (ranging from customized coupons through sweepstakes) a lot easier too by taking care of legal and fulfillment requirements for you.  Click here to learn more.

Have you used an incentive in your survey before? We’d love to hear more about your experience and thoughts in the Comments section below!

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  • Roy Lindseth

    I started on your survey Re: the The CSEG and the APEGGA but was interrupted well before completion. Now I find I cannot get back to the survey form because it is considered I have responded, which is not totally correct.
    Roy Lindseth

    • Roy–we’re sorry to hear that. Are you able to contact the survey creator to make sure you can provide all of your responses?

  • Sicco Jan

    the “first time, further times” conclusion of decreasing/negative effect of incentives is also valid in sales: when a customer misses a rebate/price cut for some reason (on holiday, no money, no desire at the moment, …), he/she will be reluctant to pay the full price the next time the product is offered or desired, because of fear of missing a better offer. It is even true for the next rebate, because the consumer may think a better offer might still be possible somewhere.

    I would also say that if people ‘have to’ respond (like students, patients, employees): don’t bother to give a generic incentive (e.g. Amazon vouchers). But perhaps a reward connected to the service you are offering: jumping the queue in health has great value for the patient but can be offered at almost no extra cost. Whether it is ethical is another topic…

    One benefit of an incentive is inviting more traffic to your survey and site (if it is online and not sent out to an audience), but don’t expect the answers to be complete or true. ‘Fill out the form and get the incentive’ might be the only objective respondents have (I know in the Netherlands there are several sites that harvests free product offerings and incentives, no doubt this is also available in other countries).

  • William

    Very insightful, intriguing to think about the balance between having too much or too little incentive when gathering information and its effects on the quality of data. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jonathan

    If this truly interests you after reading this I would recommend Daniel Pink’s “Drive:The surprising truth of what motivates us.” He continues on this subject with strong cases backing exactly of what your speaking off. Nonetheless an amazing read, highly recommended.

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