Online surveys in the time of decreasing attention spans

What happened to the good ol’ days? The time when you could approach people in the street with a few polite questions without fear of being given the heave-ho; when customers would be only too happy to donate two minutes of their day to offer constructive words of advice to an enthusiastic entrepreneur who just wanted to do a bit of old fashion world-changing.

It’s not so simple now in the digital age, where just about every second we’re bombarded with emails, offers of things we don’t need and friend requests from people we barely know. If we want the virtual ‘person on the street’ to take a few minutes from their busy schedules, we have to employ a little more tact and planning.

You want to improve your product? Don’t bother me, just do it already.

Without the proper motivation, there’s really no reason for anyone to complete a survey online, unless you’re asking your mom.

To get around this dilemma, some companies offer incentives in the form of vouchers or chances to win attractive prizes like a pair of flippers or a free newspaper. If everyone can see that the survey is clear and uncomplicated, it’s usually an easy decision to participate, especially if there’s a top prize at the end of it all.

But if you’re too poor or proud for bribery, you’re just going to have to suck the lemon and be nice to them. This is fortunately easier than it sounds thanks to social media channels, where you only have to be nice once and your good deed is passed on from friend to friend.

By publishing your survey invitation to Facebook or Twitter for example, you’re opening up the possibility that your desperate plea for participants will spread beyond your immediate audience (your mom’s friends), giving you higher completion rates.

Copywriting: not only for Ad men with drinking problems

As much as we think the Internet is a marauding soup of spamming trolls and click-happy hipsters, when we send an email to our customers or post on our walls, a real conversation is taking place. And since good conversations depend on the skillful arrangement of words, the right copy can really make a difference to the success of your survey.

No matter who your audience is, it’s always best to phrase your questions as simply as possible. If somebody has to read twice whether they were ‘reasonably satisfied with the overall degree of customer service furnished by the waiting and bar staff on the evening in question’, their level of annoyance might affect their final answer.

How you approach the invite itself is also critical: since the abolition of torture, the best way to get the truth out of someone has been to simply be upfront and tell them what you want to achieve. Hidden agendas are easily spotted and you’ll be judged harshly if participants think you’re trying to dress a lead generator up as a survey.

For example, if you’re a building a fashion application for women and want to glean a little information from the ladies on what they like and expect, why not just tell them straight up? Start the conversation with something like – “We think the current fashion apps on the market could be better and were wondering if you think so too.”

Nearly as important as words, is design. Forms that are easy to use and forego endless options encourage clearer language and better answers – honest!

Tiny machines for tiny tasks

Next time you’re wandering through the airport lounge or waiting in the queue for tickets to the next Justin Bieber concert, look up from your own cell and count the people toying listlessly with their mobile devices.

Smart phones are like death rays for time and they’re great for showing people that you’re actually doing something, even when you’re not. After all, who’d want to be seen just standing there and looking at stuff? Here we’re saying that you should always consider what you’re participant is doing when they read their invitation. Not everyone is staring at a monitor fighting off barrages of pop up surveys with a plastic mouse.

Surveys that look dandy and are easy to use on all mobile devices, allow you to take advantage of these pockets of time spent between all the important things we have to do in our lives. Mention that your survey will only take 60 seconds , or simply say, “Hey there, while you’re waiting for your coffee or for your train, we’d love it if you spent one minute answering some really important questions.”

Armed with the right tools and some titillating (but comprehensible) copy, you might just be able to arrest the attention of a customer or client for long enough to ask them if they want to read and answer a couple of questions, no matter where they are. And if you’ve really thought about it, they might just say yes.

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