The 10 Essential Points to Engage Online Respondents


Online surveys continue to grow in popularity across Asia as more researchers uncover the benefits of such a medium.  Interactive or Flash® based surveys have been proven to improve respondent’s feedback.

Ever since 1999, GMI (Global Market Insite, Inc.) has been amongst the pioneer in this field, empowering researchers and marketers across APAC, EMEA and the US with online survey solutions aimed at improving the quality of responses. Over the past three years, the GMI Interactive team has conducted over 100 research experiments, with more than ten thousand respondents, to learn how to improve data quality from online surveys by making them more engaging.

Christine Tan, oversees GMI’s expansion of business development and operations across South East Asia. Tan points out, “We basically aim to alleviate boredom as the respondents work their way through the survey. Our research revealed, within a 15-minute survey, a 38% increase in straight-lining occurs and up to 40% decline in responses to open-ended questions.”

Tan states, “Engagement is the key. Human are adept at engaging respondents, and there are standardized models of behaviour when being interviewed by a human that are easily bypassed online.”

Below is a ten-point summary of what we found to be useful.

1. Think of a survey as a piece of communication.  Many people likened online surveys to insurance forms – often dull and very badly designed.  The importance of aesthetics is often overlooked, but increased visual appeal, fluidity and ergonomics reduces the dropout from some surveys by as much as 75%.  The design of an online survey should abide by the same standards as communication in any other media: would you deliver a PowerPoint presentation to fifty people in black-and-white, using solely the 12-point Verdana typeface, with 20 bullet points on a page, and get your IT department to create it? Probably not. So why would that be acceptable for an online survey, where you might be talking to ten times as many people?

2. Beware of standard grid questions.  These are the primary cause of dropout in online surveys.  Mixing these up with a range of more animated interactive question types, including drag and drop, sliders, and scrolling format questions, can reduce levels of straightlining by up to 80%, and double survey experience rating scores.

3. Focus on the introduction to a survey.  Most people drop out of surveys at the very start, and as many as half of respondents do not read the initial instructions properly.  It is very important to make the introduction to a survey as welcoming and engaging as possible. An animated introduction, or a mini-presentation outlining the aim of the survey, can drastically improve respondents’ attention levels, and improve the quality of feedback by as much as 50%.

4. Use imagery to stimulate the imagination.  Nearly any cognitive task in an online survey can be improved by using imagery. For example, when asking respondents to recall advertising on TV, simply showing a TV set encourages greater recall. Similarly, when asking about foods respondents hated to eat, an image of someone expressing disgust triggered 60% more feedback. Images stimulate the imagination and increase respondents’ enthusiasm for answering questions.

5. Apply basic social psychology techniques.  For example, many respondents don’t know how much is acceptable to write when giving open-ended feedback. Simply showing them an example of what someone else has written helps establish a social norm they are more likely to adhere to.  Also, autocratic conditionality, with warning messages about non-answering, is a big turn off for respondents, but the phrase “this part is voluntary” can act as a powerful encouragement for respondents to do extra work.

6. Learn from qualitative research.  Many common techniques used in qualitative research can be successfully adapted to improve online survey response.  For example, role-play and projective methods greatly increase respondents’ involvement in a task. Allowing people to read and dontevaluate other respondents’ feedback, as they would in a focus group, can also really draw people in.

7. Work on the wording.  The tone and style of language used is crucial in engaging respondents.  An online survey littered with “research-speak” is certain to make many switch off and tune out, whereas friendly and simple wording can have the opposite effect.  Phrases like “every little detail helps”, and “we would be really interested to know”, encourage greater feedback.

8. Take a break.  Changes of topic within a survey can help restore respondents’ attention, especially with a bit of fun. Respondents can give 30% more answers to a question if they feel mentally refreshed.

9. Embrace the innate desire to play.  Respondents tend to put more effort into answering questions that are more fun or seem more like games. Phrases like “we challenge you…” can double the time people spend thinking about and answering a question..

10. Remember that the feedback from respondents is elastic.  Stimulating respondents in the right way can improve the level or feedback to an amazing degree.  In our experiments, we achieved a six-fold increase in the volume of feedback simply by asking questions in different, more engaging ways.

Tan further adds, “Our research reveals, with the right engagement techniques, 50 respondents can deliver the same volume of feedback as 350. You can encourage them to write paragraphs instead of sentences, think harder, engage their imaginations and get them to take part in a sequential series of research studies.”

Suddenly, online emerges as a platform for more qualitative research.