Blog: 5 tips to get people to fill out your survey

By Stacey Mac Donald

One of the most common social sciences research methods is (online) surveys.  While there are many benefits to this method, there are also many pitfalls, like, not being able to get people to fill out the survey you spent so many hours developing. For my own research, I am using a survey. Here are my tips to get people to fill a survey out.

1. Make it personal
In general, people are more likely to help someone they know than a stranger. Therefore, during my fieldwork on the BES-islands, one of my main goals was to introduce as many people as possible to my research. I figured it made sense to get to know my respondents, let them get to know me, and build a relationship of trust. As the Dutch expression explains, “voor wat hoort wat”, offer to do something for them in return for their cooperation whenever possible.

2. Keep it personal
Once you’ve built a network, the next step is to send personal emails. Addressing your potential respondents by name can be sufficient. Bulk emails usually end up in people’s spam inbox anyway; so take the time to send yours emails one by one. You can save time by drafting a standard email in which you can easily interchange names. Although this is a quick fix, it does require precision. You don’t want to send a ‘personal’ email to someone, but forget to change the name from the last email. Or, God forbid, send the wrong link to your survey! If it does happen, you can recall your message . . . if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky, just admit your mistake, apologize, and hope they will take pity on you for being a desperate researcher.

3. The power of social media
If your target group is active on social media, use it! Social media is one of the most efficient ways to reach your target group, and the perfect way to contact (i.e spam) other relevant people with your survey request. If you are very creative with your post (see #5), chances are that others will help share your request within their network. Double whammy!

4. Show them the money
There is some debate about including an incentive for completing a survey. When using incentives, there is a risk that people will fill out the survey just for the money. However, when surveys are long and tiring, including an incentive can help to motivate your participants to fill out the entire darn thing.

5. Let’s get visual
While you may have built some sort of relationship with a decent group of individuals, it is not likely that you have met every single person that meets your survey requirements. I have a solution.

Make things visual. In general, people prefer looking at something interesting and flashy, like a flyer. What is the flashiest visual? Videos, obviously! Make a likeable video of yourself asking (begging) people to fill out your survey. In other words, make a complete idiot out of yourself. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

You can have a look at my 2 minutes of f(sh)ame here.

This ties in with my second trick: be vulnerable and put yourself out there – be likeable and let people relate with you, which is a lot easier to convey with a video than with an email.

Do these tips work? Well, I can’t say just yet. I am still in the process of begging people to fill out my survey…

(Stacey Mac Donald is a researcher at KITLV, working as part of the NWO-funded research project ‘Confronting Caribbean Challenges’. Her research project focuses on the challenges of cultural heritage and nature conservation in the Dutch Caribbean municipalities.)

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