10 Tips for More Effective Surveys

Share |

By David Beacom


Surveys can be incredibly powerful tools for better aligning your priorities with the needs and wants of your members and customers.


However, the quality of the results depends on the quality of the survey.


That may seem daunting if your team doesn’t include someone with formal training in effective surveying. But it doesn’t have to be.


At AM&P 360 in June, Susanne Connors Bowman, CAE, senior director of marketing and communications for the Consortium for School Networking, and Kim Howard, CAE, president of Write Communications, LLC., combined forces to offer a step-by-step guide to gauging member interest on virtually any subject.


They compressed decades of wisdom into the following 10 tips on building surveys and putting the results to work.


1. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know the answers.

Be prepared to act. That is, surveying your members should never be an empty exercise. If you don’t intend to listen to what respondents tell you and then act on what you’ve learned, don’t even bother to ask.


2. Ask for survey tool examples from association discussion groups.

Make life simple for yourself: Look to other organizations for examples of survey questionnaires or even individual questions that they have used to probe readership sentiment, membership preferences, etc. You can build your base questionnaire from there.


3. Allow for more nuanced answers.

Use a Likert scale, with a range of 1–5 or 1–10, rather than up-or-down questions. Try to uncover shades of sentiment, as in “Strongly agree” or “Strongly disagree” with a neutral response (not desirable, but you need to know) in the middle.


4. Ask for single answers versus instead of “all that apply.”

Example given: “What is the single-most important aspect of our conference in determining whether you attend?” This example came from an organization that long thought that conference location was just one of many determinants of attendance. By asking the question this way they found that “host city” was the most frequently chosen answer, by far.


5. Use open-ended questions … sparingly.

Best aspects of the conference? Favorite features in the publication? Problems you encountered with customer service? Allowing respondents to “vent” or praise at length can be deeply informative, though harder to quantify.


6. Use demographic questions.

You can learn a lot about your audience if you ask such questions. But always run sensitive items — e.g., age (better phrased as “career stage” or “level of experience” — toward the end of the survey.) Be sure to allow respondents to skip these items, if desired, while still completing the questionnaire. Make clear that demographic results are reported only in the aggregate, not individually.


7. Take advantage of free or inexpensive survey tools.

All of the following can be helpful, and most are easy to use and quite adaptable. Also, your group’s association management software may even have its own survey module:


  • SoGoSurvey
  • Survey Monkey
  • Typeform
  • Google Forms
  • Client Heartbeat
  • Zoho Survey
  • Survey Gizmo
  • Survey Planet


8. Have new eyes take the survey.

You should suggest up-front that the survey takes X minutes to complete. Having a novice run through the items helps to verify this estimate and — more importantly — highlight difficult, confusing, or ultimately uninformative items.


9. Offer an incentive to those who respond.

Gift cards, discount codes to your store, even (if the pool is large and participants are likely to be willing to provide contact information) chances to win a high-value prize like an iPad.


10. Read the results.

Make sure you have a plan for sharing — both internally and externally — what you’ve learned. And then act on it: There is nothing worse than failing to take good advice!


David Beacom is principal advisor for David Beacom Strategies. Association Media & Publishing thanks David for covering this AM&P Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.