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Surveys: the new torture

You might confuse a survey creator with a sadomasochist if you’ve tried to complete an online survey recently.

When SurveyMonkey started fifteen years ago, researching audiences was the field of well paid research companies, with experts in qualitative and quantitative methodologies and statistical data analysis.

SurveyMonkey ‘democratized’ (or disrupted!) the field, allowing anyone to fire up a chain of questions and blast it out to cyberspace.

You can bet that less than 10% of those making an estimated 20 million surveys a month are qualified to do so. The result? Torture.

I sympathize with the survey creator because you can bet 10 people in their organization are throwing in additional questions ‘while we are at it’.

The trouble is, it’s not working.

Jakob Nielsen argues it’s even skewing the results, because the small number willing to be go through that amount of questions are not representative of your full audience.

Consider that attention spans have radically reduced with the spread of social media and we’re unwilling to be distracted from our newsfeeds for more than a few seconds.

The drop in readership in articles is contrast with the ironic trend in peoplesharing stories they haven’t read.

If we’re not even committed to reading an article that would present a greater personal ROI than a survey, then why would we voluntarily embark on a bloated series of questions.

The answer is, we won’t. So what are the alternatives?

Paid Surveys

In response to dwindling numbers of people choosing to fill out a survey, a new market has emerged for paid surveys. Participants are incentivized to answer the questions by earning points, prizes and gifts.

The question is, what is their main goal?

a) To help you understand the audience wants and needs
b) Get to the end of the questions in the shortest amount of time

Research Companies

A return to focus groups, accurate sampling and a meticulous designing of questions to ensure the accuracy of the results is one option. Trouble is, you’ve got to be willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars each time you undertake the research.

Short surveys

A new alternative, that works in the social age, is to ask single questions and share them through social media.

The net promoter score folks have realized the value of focusing on just one metric to dramatically increase response rates.

Their key strategy is to remove the friction caused by presenting more than one question.

At townhall we’ve been working on other ways to reduce the friction that turns people away from answering surveys.

One method is by creating a single registration, so all our customers benefit from the collective pool of demographic data (age, sex, location) from participants, but more importantly, the person is not required to add their information every time they answer a question.

Another tactic is to make the question about them, not you.

If the question matters, they will not only engage, but they’ll share it so their network will also participate.

If it has to be about you, it’s got to be about you in relation to how it will affect them.

Consider also, that a two way dialogue, on issues that affect large groups of people with shared interests, makes for great social media content.

Not only the initial posting of the question, but regular updates on interesting trends and insights.

We’ve found short questions that matter are actually valued and enjoyed, not ignored and avoided.

5 Benefits of an on-going conversation 

The internet has changed the way we communicate, manage our businesses and our lives.

In the past, one of the barriers to ongoing and regular consultation with key stakeholders and community members was the cost of printing, postage, meetings, collating of responses, data analysis and distributing the results.

This cost has been radically reduced by the majority of the population having access to the internet, combined with a range of tools that enable fast and easy consultation and exchange.

Community engagement specialists can now consider how to engage their stakeholders in an on-going dialogue, rather than sporadic, one-time consultations.

The five key advantages to keeping the conversation going are:

1. Trust

If people are invited to have their say often, and they see the impact of their decisions, they are more likely to grow their trust of the process.

This means ‘closing the loop’, by informing participants of outcomes, is key.

If you are also consistent in the way you promote your questions and followup with the results, people will trust the process and be more willing to take part.

Consultation fatigue emerges when people are invited to engage, but don’t see tangible results.

Trust grows over time, so regular opportunities for input will gradually grow the trust in your community and lead to a higher quality of results from your consultation efforts.

2. Familiarity

By inviting people into a conversation regularly you are increasing their familiarity and ease of using your online consultation software.

It won’t be a new start each time they are asked to participate. They will have registered for the site and understand how it works.

Each time they participate it will become easier and easier.

Developing a step by step methodology for undertaking the online consultation will increase the chances people will recognise the process and understand what is taking place and when.

3. Awareness

Growing your social media audience, and refining your techniques to reach communities of interest online, is key to raising awareness of your consultations.

Consider the variety of ways you can promote your questions:

  • Email list
  • Staff intranet
  • Social media channels (free)
  • Boosted posts on social media
  • Posters at the front desk

Using a shareable survey, like townhall, radically increases your chances of being seen because people love to share townhall questions with their networks.

4. Skills

Exercising any muscle is going to improve it’s strength and ability. Our brains are no different. Giving the people the chance to participate in the conversation, consider options, offer ideas, vote and share opinions will grow the capacity within individuals and the wider community.

Over time the ability of participants to express their views is going to improve. This might result in more people being interested and capable of joining more deliberate forums of debate.

Everyone is on a learning curve throughout life. Offering more chances for engagement and discussion as a community in a meaningful way, will help many people grow their skill level.

5. Willingness

The combination of trust, familiarity, awareness and skills all leads to a growing willingness of people to spend time contributing to the community around them. It might start with the willingness to take a minute to have their say online, but will eventually lead to them helping neighbours build a new playground in the local park.

The willingness to contribute is greatly increased by a sense of being valued and respected.

Regular, on-going dialogue is one way to show your community their input really matters.


To find out more about how you can use townhall app for on-going, easy and low-cost conversation, contact us for a free demonstration.

The 3 minute turnoff

Even if you like a brand, as I like AirBNB, when I see “3 minutes” I click away faster than a Tinder swipe to the left.

Response rates for surveys have been dropping significantly over the past decade.

UX designers painstakingly figure out what they can cut out of forms and site content to maximise how many progress along a funnel to the point of sale or the next level of engagement.

Yet, survey designers still want to present someone with the complexity shown below, somehow hoping it won’t turn people off.

The creators of the Net Promotor Score are one of the few to realise it’s better to get more responding to less, therefore, they reduced their survey to a simple question about the likelihood of a recommendation.

Reducing the input to a single question, so it takes less than 5 seconds, is our goal at townhall.

Capturing key information once only, then posting a different question every few days, increases the number of participants and makes your target audience thank you.

Give townhall a try, it’s free for up to 4 questions a month.

Lifting the lid on the new townhall

Over the past six months a hard working team in Vietnam have rebuilt the townhall platform from scratch.

After two years of running the tool as a Facebook app, built with PHP and an out-of-the-box content management system, it was time to take things to another level.

First of all, we needed to make it work on the mobile. Rather than ask participants to download an app, we decided to make it a web responsive app, so it displays the best layout according to the device that is viewing it.

Making it a web app also meant that people don’t have to be a Facebook user to sign-in and vote.

Registration only requires an email and participants have the choice to remain anonymous to the townhall organizer. We will be adding one click sign-ups to allow people to connect easily through their social accounts, but the user decides what additional data they are willing to disclose.

Secondly, we needed to build an entirely different content management system that is more intuitive and allows our customers to sign-up, manage their questions and account independently of us.

This also meant we could offer the tool for free, to give smaller organizations the chance to use a limited version of the tool.

The dashboard is a much easier design and there’s now an option to view demographic and result data online with colourful graphics and easy to understand data.

We decided to build the new townhall platform in Ruby on Rails using a postgres database with Unicorn as the web server.

Giving an optimal experience for the participant has always been our priority because that’s the only way to increase the number of the participants and the likelihood of sharing of the question through social networks.

The benefits for participation on townhall for the end user (participant) are:

Choice to remain anonymous
A single login for all townhall installations
Once only submission of demographic data (optional)
Ability to opt out of notifications
Ability to see results and compare opinions

The other big change you might have noticed is that we decided to rebrand. A new logo and a new name.

Townhall has gone beyond pure social and it’s closer to a platform, therefore, we wanted the brand name to be simpler so people feel comfortable just calling us townhall.

Take a look at the User Guide to learn how it works.

Visit our You Tube channel to watch screencasts.

Short surveys suit the social age

An article by Nielson Group over 10 years ago recommended to keep surveys short.

In a time of lightening fast social news feeds and 140 character updates, this advice would have even greater currency.

“One goal beats all others when designing a customer survey for a website: maximize the response rate.”

Low response rates are going to bias the results because only the committed users will have taken the time to participate.

The antidote, according to Nielson, is to keep your surveys short - very short.

“The highest response rates come when surveys are quick and painless.”

Like many things in life, making things simpler is actually harder. Can you pinpoint the one or two questions that are most important?

A Harvard Business Review articleThe One Number You Need to Growsuggests that only a single question needs to be asked in order to understand customer-satisfaction.

It’s author, Frederick Reichheld, is the author of a book, The Ultimate Question. It’s revised edition talks about how net-promotor companies thrive in a customer-driven world.

Recognising that the majority of your target audience are busy people is one step toward appreciating they don’t have time to answer your 20 survey questions.

Keeping things simple, asking a single question, will increase participation to a broader cross-section of people.

Your question is more likely to be shared through social networks, resulting in more awareness of your organisation and it’s efforts to listen to the voices of many, rather than just the “squeaky wheels” who can be bothered with long surveys.

Why native advertising on Facebook is hot right now

Native ads are discussed on the latest podcast by Amy Porterfield.

Facebook gives preference to native ads because it wants to add value to it’s users.

Native ads are sponsored posts that contain content of interest to the audience.

An example of a native ad

This means you need to make your Facebook advertising useful content rather than pure sales messages.

Once the end user links through to your content, you have the chance to build leads through other techniques to capture email or link people through to purchase online.

Asking a question using townhall is a great example of native advertising.

Stimulating conversation, debate or asking for feedback and ideas can be interesting to your audience and leads to building up your email list and engagement.

Why email is trumping social

Research by McKinsey & Company proves that email marketing is 40 times more effective for acquiring customers than social media.

The State of Marketing Technology Winter 2015 Report from VentureBeat says email as the highest ROI of any marketing channel.

There’s some brilliant email marketing platforms out there, but how are you capturing email leads?

We focus on helping brands capture email through an opt-in method as part of a voting poll shared throughout social networks.

Your social networks are the way to reach your audience and engage them in a conversation through asking great questions - link to question blog.

When participants respond to the question there is an opt-out checkbox to sign-up to get email alerts from you. This builds a list of people who have chosen to receive your updates.

The list can be downloaded as a CSV file from your townhall dashbord and importe../../css/div__footer_class_.css"entry-meta">

Category: Email marketing, Online polls, Social media, townhall, Voting Tags: , , , ,