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The how and why of incentivizing surveys


Have you ever taken a survey that offers you a reward at the end?

That reward is an incentive to get you to take the survey. When you’re smart about offering survey respondents a reward (by knowing when and how to do it) it can help you collect responses that are more reliable

Incentivizing surveys may seem like a no-brainer. If you offer people a reward to take your survey, they’ll be even more likely to do so than if you offered them nothing at all.

But consider this: Your reward may be attracting the wrong kind of respondent. Imagine you run a pet store and you want to know what kinds of things pet owners value when it comes to their pet’s care. If you don’t know exactly who you are sending your survey to, you may reach people who want your reward but don’t have pets.

By offering everybody a reward to take your survey, it can encourage satisficers—people who misrepresent themselves or rush through surveys to the detriment of your survey results—just to collect a reward.

However, incentivizing isn’t all bad. Offering survey rewards can help you encourage hard-to-reach audiences to take your survey. You can even offer indirect rewards to your respondents to benefit a third party, like a charity. Decide whether or not to incentivize your survey by carefully considering the circumstances.

Although incentivizing surveys can have its drawbacks, it will increase your response rates. Before you decide to offer survey incentives, figure out if it’s necessary. Ask yourself the following questions:

What is my target population? If you know that you have access to people who you want to take your survey (for example, existing customers or a target demographic from an expert service like SurveyMonkey Audience) you may feel more comfortable offering an incentive. Those respondents’ answers are probably relevant–and you may want to give them extra encouragement to complete your survey. If you’re sending out your survey to just about anybody, you may want to rethink offering a $20 gift card to everybody who answers your questions.

What’s my relationship with my survey respondents? If you’re hoping to reach people who have purchased your product, it may be worth it to offer them a little something to encourage them to take the time to give you product feedback. However, you probably don’t need to incentivize your survey if you ask your students to evaluate your course–because they’re more likely to see that it comes from a place of authority (and they’ll take your survey more seriously).

Are my respondents interested in my survey topic? If you send out an online neighborhood questionnaire to people in your neighborhood who attended a local meeting on whether or not there should be a new community center nearby, you don’t need to offer them anything to take your survey. They’re already interested in the issue and don’t need any encouragement to share their opinions.

How long is my survey? How complex are my survey questions? You may want to offer your respondents a little something extra if you’re asking them to fill out a 10-page survey or a survey with questions that require more thought than “Do you own a car?” It shows you value their time–and appreciate their willingness to spend it on your survey.

After you decide whether or not you’re going to offer your survey respondents a direct reward–like a prize, gift card, or sweepstakes entry–choose which method you’ll use to reward your survey respondents.

Choose rewards that are most likely to appeal to anybody responding to your survey. And don’t forget to keep your budget in mind, especially if you’re offering everybody a reward. (You may want to set up your close survey option to stop collecting responses after a defined period of time or number of responses.)

And one of the most important aspects of offering survey incentives is to get your legalese in order. Write up your legal terms and conditions, and run it by a trained legal professional to make sure your offer is on the up-and-up.

Learn all about how to incentivize surveys when you use SurveyMonkey to create and send online surveys.

So incentivizing surveys can increase response rates (great!)–but may encourage satisficing (not great). In order to cut down on people who only take your survey just to earn a prize, you may want to try using indirect rewards.

In fact, we know all about indirect rewards–it’s the basis of our survey response service, SurveyMonkey Contribute. Instead of paying our survey respondents to take our surveys, we donate 50 cents to the charity of their choice every time they fill one out. That way, they’re less likely to rush through surveys out of pure self-interest.

We get responses. They donate their time. And charitable causes benefit from their generosity. It’s a win-win-win!

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