Survey incentives: Are they worth it?

Taylor Brodie

Taylor Brodie, 11 April 2019

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At some point, the success of your evaluation strategy lies in the willingness of the audiences to be surveyed. Often when trying to bolster response rates our clients will look to offering a survey incentive to encourage their respondents to engage with the survey. 

Our general advice is that for many cases these incentives are unnecessary – if you have a strong audience base you will be able to leverage this goodwill and your audience will be happy to give you useful feedback. Nevertheless, we’re asked about it often enough to write a blog and indeed, when deployed tactfully, survey incentives may help boost responses and drive data collection.

What is an incentive?

In exchange for completing a survey, respondents are rewarded with an incentive or redeemable gift. Typically, our clients offer lottery-style incentives, giving their respondents the chance to win a prize such as free tickets to a program.

When used intelligently, survey incentives can help respondents feel valued and thanked for their time completing a survey. They help combat other costs to the respondent completing a survey – time, effort, hassle. Placing a monetary value on a survey response may also help you to convey how important audience feedback is to you.

Although this might sound like a win-win situation, evaluators need to be cautious that their incentive isn’t appealing to the wrong audience or skewing the results because of the incentive offered.

When is a good time to use incentives?

Before using a monetary incentive or prize it can be pertinent to first consider the type of survey you’re incentivising and if you really need to.

Often our clients conducting audience/public surveys are able to incentivise responses by merely appealing to their respondents. Mentioning why you are collecting surveys and that feedback is valued and greatly appreciated is a very powerful motivation for many respondents – especially ones who are already attending an event, in a gallery space or otherwise engaging with an organisation in some way. 

If you have already considered this, and have received low response rates from previous surveys, it is also important to think about what other factors (other than the lack of reward) are causing you to receive less responses than you’d like. Some factors that may be influencing response rate are surveys that are too long or complex; surveying your audience too frequently causing survey fatigue; poor survey structure; or a lacking distribution strategy.

Survey incentives are not a Band-Aid to be applied to a bad survey. They are a tool to thank your audiences for their time, or to slightly alleviate a small problem. Before resorting to an incentive to increase response rates ensure that you have considered the above and mitigated any issues in the survey first.

In saying this however, sometimes incentives can help if you do require your audience to complete a large survey as a once-off or annual basis. They can also be helpful if your survey is designed to reach an audience segment who are difficult to engage with.

Best practice

If you do decide that survey incentives are something that you would like to try there are a few things to consider to ensure that you can mitigate the above issues as much as possible.

Firstly, consider your survey’s audience and choose an incentive that has universal appeal to that audience. The more your prize appeals to your target respondent group, the less likely you are to only incentivise a disproportionate number of one respondent type and skew results. If you are trying to appeal to your current audience, often a lottery-style incentive with free tickets to your organisation’s program (or similar) can be the perfect balance. This is also an opportunity for cross promotion across organisations similar to your own.

In the same vein, consider the worth of the prize. The prize needs to be valuable enough to incentivise responses, but not valuable enough to encourage respondents who will answer carelessly multiple times just to win the prize. (The Culture Counts platform mitigates this by only allowing one survey response per IP address when using the ‘online’ link in the survey builder).

Consider the confidentiality of your respondents when collecting personal information like an email or mailing address. The Culture Counts platform does not link these to our aggregate data, however if you are collecting personal details ensure that you are taking the proper precautions to protect your respondents’ information—and also let them know that their responses won’t be linked back to them personally. Otherwise, you may not get them to respond to more sensitive questions they might not want tracked back to them.

Finally, it’s also useful to think about testing your incentives with a small group of your target audience to ascertain what effect it’s having on your survey collection, and tweak as necessary to mitigate bias.

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