A couple of days ago I received yet another invitation to fill in an online survey. To make it more appealing the organisation in question (a reputable web hosting company) was offering the incentive of a £1,000 prize draw. I just gave it as much as a side glance and immediately deleted it, when it then dawned on me how valueless company surveys had become.
As I contemplated the reasons for my lack of interest I came to the realisation that for a number of years I had only ever bothered to fill in two types of surveys. The first was the kind of simple questions often asked on web pages, requiring a mere Yes or a No and for which the aggregated answer is immediately displayed, so you get know to which group you belong (are you a red, or a green, do you prefer apples or pears, and so on…). The combined sense of curiosity, immediacy and speed makes these surveys still valuable and attractive.
The second kind is those by companies like YouGov. I have been one of their contributors for years, but I have so far only ever failed to fill in a very small proportion of their surveys and often just because I am away and with no internet connection. Why have I always filled YouGov surveys and not others you may ask? Well, first the company’s reputation, then topicality and finally access to results. As for reputation YouGov are right there at the top. You know that your precious information will be handled professionally, whether it is on behalf of a commercial organisation, or for the purpose of supplying public data. Topicality also comes into the equation as you are often asked to fill in surveys on contemporary matters. Finally, you can access (most) of their findings through their very comprehensive website, so you can see the results of your labour too. Of course, if you are a regular contributor you also have a (modest) financial incentive, but this is so small and the efforts involved in order to get it are so gargantuan that it’s more like someone buying you a pint for having given them a hand with their week-long house redecoration.
I am not saying that YouGov surveys are perfect. They have their faults and I have almost stopped filling in their inane branding surveys in which you are asked questions like ‘If you were offered a job by (there follows a list of mostly wholly unappealing brands) which of these organisations would you be proud to work for?’ The next page inevitably contains the opposite question (i.e. which brands you’d be embarrassed to work for). In my case, as many of the brands are either totally unknown or have the same employment appeal as spending a week in a pigsty, I’ve got bored of those questionnaires and have therefore stopped processing them. From time to time, you will get a poorly designed YouGov survey. You must know the kind. The one that starts by asking you a question like ‘Are you a nuclear scientist?’ to which you respond in the negative (unless, of course, you are one) . Your reply, however, is ignored, as the following questions are of the kind only an expert in that specific field would either understand or be required to know. A quick exit by closing the browser’s window is therefore the only possible option.
But enough of YouGov. The point I am making is that I now only ever process either the simple online surveys with an immediate summary of answers, or those that I perceive have a real purpose. The latter also includes surveys from professional organisations, however, these have the tendency of being impossibly long and detailed, as well as mind blowingly tedious. I suspect this is because they are designed by committees, or staff with too much time in their hands.
Like a lot of other professionals over the course of my working life I have probably filled in hundreds of surveys, yet I may have only seen an infinitesimal proportion of survey analysis in exchange for my time. Of course, I am not naive and I appreciate that in many instances a survey is a thin veneer for asking you sales questions, or for making you part with some contact details.
And this is also, possibly, another reason why so few people these days take the trouble of filling them in, not just for lack of time, but for the inherent impression that someone, somewhere, is just after a little bit of your personal information, without as much as a thank you, or the opportunity to see the results of your efforts. Besides, with so much data now available thanks to social media networks one needs to ask whether survey data is really of much value. Perhaps online surveys have had their day, just like platform shoes or flared trousers, or… (please fill in – no prize given though!).