By Tom Garry
The Calendarizers

Congratulations! You’ve decided to go straight to the source and survey your clients, members, or other key audiences on what they want to see on your web site, in your blog posts or newsletters, and in your other communications.

Here are five tips for creating an effective audience-interest survey:

  1. Provide context – with a dash of flattery. When asking people to complete the survey, explain why you are conducting it and let them know that their answers will have a direct impact on what they receive from you in the future. Explain that you value their input because of their importance to you and, as appropriate, note that they were selected for inclusion because of their expertise, their status as a major customer or their role as a very active member of your organization.
  2. Assure anonymity. Confirm for participants that their answers are anonymous and will be considered only “in the aggregate” – with those of other respondents.
  3. Put time on your side.  Emphasize as early as possible in your cover email or introduction that the survey will take just three minutes (Yes, use the boldface type and underlining). The other metric to stress is the number of questions to be answered, as in eight quick questions. Just make sure that the three-minute duration you cite isn’t the exclusive domain of speed readers and the preternaturally decisive. It should be achievable by the average person. Similarly, while some of your questions can have “parts” or sub-questions, others should be simple and straightforward so that people don’t feel they were misled. Many web-based survey programs feature a percentage-of-completion counter showing people what proportion of the survey they have completed with each answer; this can be a great inducement for them to continue if your survey is more than a few questions long.
  4. Use the Likert scale. Get an accurate feel for the range of respondents’ opinions by allowing them to weigh in along a spectrum rather than confining them to Yes/No answers.  For example, when surveying participants on the extent of their interest in various topics, employ a five-point Likert scale in which 5 represents “High Interest” and 1 represents “No Interest.”
  5. Keep open-ended questions to a minimum – and at the end. Most of your questions should be “closed,” so that respondents can reply by choosing from among a set of answers you provide. To get the full benefit of their insights, however, include at least one or two open-ended questions. Phrase the questions in a way that encourages participants to answer succinctly. For example: “What is your single greatest concern about X, Y, or Z?” Also, put the open-ended questions at or near the end of the survey; if participants encounter them earlier on, they can suspect that many more queries requiring written responses will follow, and they may bail out.

While it’s important to keep your surveys short and questions sharp, the most important thing you can do to ensure that survey responses guide your communications effectively is to act on them. As I noted in my previous post, audience-interest surveys too often are viewed, consciously or otherwise, as ends in themselves. The survey is written, fielded, and completed. The results are put into a presentation, circulated, and discussed at a meeting. Everyone agrees that this was a very important step. And then everyone gets busy doing all the other things they do, and the survey results fade into the background, playing little or no role in shaping the content of an organization’s communications plan.

Don’t let that sort of disconnect rob your business or association of the opportunity to better meet your audience’s interests and needs. Once you’ve gone to the trouble of identifying what they want, make sure you reap the benefits of providing them with what they want.


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