Online surveys are as much about communicating as they are about collecting data, so it is important to keep this in mind, particularly if you are looking to achieve buy-in from your respondents. With the right amount of communication before and after a survey is dispatched, you will contribute to making the entire experience as positive as possible, with the upside of obtaining a higher response rate.
The beauty of online surveys is that they provide respondents with a simple and efficient way to answer questions and submit responses. Likewise, any communication strategies around a survey should be equally straightforward and efficient.
The fundamentals of a 3-Step Communication Strategy can be seen as: 1) notifying your respondents that you will be sending them a survey, 2) using the survey itself as a communication vehicle, and 3) sharing the findings through post-survey communication. I've included more detail on each of these steps below.
Step 1: Pre-Survey Communication
If printed or electronic newsletters are already part of your communication process, this is a good place to start. There is no additional expense in bringing a survey to customers' attention through these channels. Notifying your respondent group of a forthcoming survey, and identifying the "purpose" and "direction" of your questions will help offset respondents wondering: "What's this in my in-box?"
Pre-survey communication underscores that your organization is proactively listening, learning, and addressing needs head-on. If you don't have a printed or electronic monthly newsletter, common alternatives include printed postcards, electronic bulletins and postings on your website announcing future survey activity.
Step 2: Survey Communication
When you dispatch an online survey via email, you have the ability to communicate to respondents in the email subject line, email body, on the survey itself or on a "landing page" (if you need to outline extended instruction, present specific terms and conditions or highlight detailed privacy policies etc. before they access the survey.)
Important information should be contained in the email body so that you can keep your survey as clean and visually light as possible. If you have sent out pre-survey communications, it is advisable that you make reference to this in the email body for continuity.
After a survey has been submitted by a respondent, you may want to put some thought into a "thank-you" message page to reflect the survey feedback has been captured or convey other information like a link back to your home page. Second and third-round distributions (or survey reminders sent to non-respondents) should also have a different message in the subject line and email body. You may simply want to include something like: "This is a friendly reminder that we would still like to hear from you." A good rule of thumb is to ensure each message builds or stands on the shoulders of the previous message.
Step 3: Post Survey Communication
Now that your online survey is complete, and you've got your data analyzed, it's time to put the results to work. An important and often overlooked component to conducting surveys is validating to respondents that their time was indeed worthwhile.
Sharing results (even at a very high level) with your respondents after the survey is complete sends a clear and positive message that you are proactively listening and learning - while reinforcing "buy-in" for future surveys by highlighting outcomes and action items resulting from this process. A good goal to keep in mind is to build a strong online "community" with your customers/members/staff so that you can start to leverage and grow this community for gathering timely feedback in the future, and in other areas extending beyond surveys - that have no doubt been identified through your surveys.
Keeping this strategy in mind will contribute to making the entire respondent experience as positive as possible and ensure higher participation rates for all your online surveys.Janet Taylor writes for InSite Systems, a leader in surveys systems and a pioneer of online survey tools. For more information about our online survey software visit www.insitesystems.com