Telling Tales About Online Surveys
As a participant in a number of online panels, I shake my head at the design quality of some of the surveys, e.g., interminable length, poorly worded questions and puzzling question flow.
For example, last week I answered a survey about vision correction. At the onset, I established that I wear eyeglasses but not contacts. Yet there were numerous questions about my opinion regarding contact lens-oriented products -- "not applicable" wasn't a choice. However, in order to go further into the survey, I had to choose an answer.
In another survey, I was asked to choose the financial institution my employer-sponsored 401(k) was invested in. My company wasn't listed, but there was no choice of "other" as an answer, so I couldn't continue unless I chose a company. Maddeningly, I was forced to select one that I don't use.
Some of the most tedious surveys are those pertaining to banking or insurance because the category is not exciting, and the questions are often much too long. Even surveys about relatively interesting product categories (e.g., beverages, electronics, fast-food restaurants) can become maddening when they attempt to milk respondents for every conceivable bit of information.
When a respondent is subjected to a lengthy, meandering survey at what point does he/she become disengaged (or just opt out)? And how does that impact the accuracy of their answers?
These flaws suggest that too many people, given the responsibility of putting together a survey, lack an understanding of the complexities and subtleties of questionnaire design and respondent psychology. They bring a simplistic "if you ask, they will answer" attitude to the task.
That's why the oversight function of media researchers is a crucial one. Without it, questionable or misleading "insights" from flawed surveys end up being presented to clients or new business prospects.
While it's vital that we never stop insisting on quality research from our suppliers, agencies also need to be vigilant about internal practices when conducting their own research.