"USA Today has come out with a new survey - apparently, three out of every four people make up 75% of the population." — David Letterman
That's insightful information. Really mind-blowing. And funny because it's so accurate. There are a ton of surveys out there today, and not all of them result in worthwhile information. Despite that, surveys can be incredibly useful, especially for associations.
Surveys are one of the top ways to get member feedback and conduct industry benchmarking research. You can turn your feedback into better member benefits, and your research into exclusive and sometimes lucrative content.
But as David Letterman's joke points out, not all surveys are helpful. Some of them are downright worthless. That's because you can't just send out a survey and expect to get responses and collect useful information.
According to Fluid Surveys, only about 25% of email surveys are even completed. Surveys often have this kind of low response rate, may not be fully filled out, and might not accurately represent the group. And if you don't know your goals and ask the right questions, your results may be confined to painfully obvious, useless information.
To overcome these challenges, your survey process needs to start before you even begin writing the survey questions. It needs to kick off with comprehensive planning. An effective planning process will set your survey up for success from the very beginning, helping you get the most participation and representative responses possible.
To set your survey up for success, complete these four steps before you even think of doing anything else.
The purpose of your survey is the driving force behind it.
Your purpose may be to find out whether members like your new website, or what new benefits they want in the coming year. It could also be to obtain insightful new data on the technology that professionals in your industry are using and how that relates to industry performance.
Start your survey process by laying out all the questions you want answered at the end of the day. What information would be valuable to your members and your industry?
Everything else you do with your survey, including the rest of your preparation steps, should stem from these questions. After preparation, for instance, you need to write questions that result in the information you need to fulfill your purpose.
Who will you send your survey to? If you want information on everything in your association or industry, your target audience might be your entire member base. Other times, it may be a smaller group. You should target your audience based on your survey's purpose.
If you only want information on your California members, then you should send your survey only to California chapters and groups. The same goes for surveys surrounding events, online community users, and more. Whatever the reason for your survey, target your audience based on who can best fulfill your purpose, giving you the information you need. This also helps you eliminate irrelevant responses. A response to an event satisfaction survey means nothing if the member didn't attend your event.
Other targeting ideas might be surveys geared toward members who have used a particular benefit, or have a certain job. This can help you obtain feedback on your offers, as well as conduct research on different professional niches within your industry.
You need to identify the best time to send out your survey, but not all times are created equal when it comes to getting people to respond. Sending a survey in the middle of the holidays, for example, probably won't result in many responses. The same goes for surveying people during one of your industry's major conferences.
Review your members, including their demographic information, to determine the best time to send out your surveys. This should be based at least in part on your target audience, and further divided up from there. If you're sending out a survey to your entire member base, break up when the survey is sent by time zone. It may be best for everyone to receive the survey during business hours, regardless of whether they live in London or Los Angeles. Or your members may respond more in the evening.
The best time to send your survey may also depend on the survey's purpose. Is your survey about an event? The best time to send is likely after the event ends and everyone is safely home, but soon enough that the experience is still fresh in their minds.
Expert Tip: If you're not sure about the best time to send surveys, use A/B testing. Divide similar groups of people and send the same survey to each group at different times. Which time resulted in the most responses?
Not only is there a best time to send out surveys, but there's an optimal frequency.
You can send out an annual survey to gauge member satisfaction, or you can send out a standalone survey multiple times, once every week for three weeks. The standalone survey might be on recent events, like new legislation, that you don't plan to send out every year.
By sending the survey out more than once in the same few weeks, however, you have a greater chance of reaching more people and increasing your response rate. After all, your member may not have seen your survey the first time. The second time they were busy, but the third time they had a moment to complete it.
Think about frequency in cumulative terms. If your association sends out a different survey every week, then members will likely get tired of responding, even if the questions are different. Don't send out too many surveys at once, or too frequently, in order to avoid annoying members.
The most well-written, beautifully laid-out survey won't mean a thing if it isn't properly planned. You need goals and a specific purpose in order to create a well-written survey that answers your questions. You also need to send your survey to the right members at the right time to increase participation.
All of these aspects will help ensure that members complete your survey and that you get the insight you need. Your website could improve through member feedback, or your offers could get a boost with cutting-edge research. Either way, you can position your association to be more relevant and provide better benefits by getting top quality, useful information from your well-planned surveys.