Survey says! Tips for developing a good online stakeholder survey

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Every successful PR and marketing program has a variety of ways to routinely get insightful feedback from the stakeholders that matter most to their organizations. Online surveys are one of the most common and effective great ways to do this. We often incorporate them into our Research and Insights projects for this very reason. But there’s a lot more to them than simply typing up a list of questions and sending out a survey. Here are seven helpful tips for ensuring your survey returns the insights you’re hoping to glean from it!

Know what you’re trying to uncover

Having a clear objective is research 101. A good survey is a balance of asking the right questions to get the insights you need and not asking so many questions that people won’t complete the survey.  Understanding exactly what you’re expecting to get out of the survey will help cull the unnecessary questions and make the back-end analysis more streamlined.

Use the right survey platform

Like anything else, not all survey platforms are the same. Some have a simple UX, which supports higher response rates. Others have more sophisticated analysis capabilities that can save you hours (or days) segmenting and making sense of the data. Most of them though cost money. Before investing in a specific survey platform, think through what features matter most to you – and those you’re surveying.

Vary your question format

As the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life” – and good surveys. Repeatedly asking the same type of question (on a scale from 1-5…) is going to get tedious for your respondents. Not only do you want them to actually complete the survey, you also need them to thoughtfully answer each question. Changing up how questions are asked will help keep them engaged with the questions.

Write clear, unbiased questions

Question clarity and bias could be its own blog series. Confusing or problematic questions will lead to poor and inconclusive results. Here are a few of the bigger offenders when it comes to question types to avoid.

  • Double-barreled questions: These are questions that ask two separate things in a single question. For example, “Do you find our product fun and easy to use?” The product could be fun, but not easy to use – and vice versa.
  • Leading questions: These questions are inherently subjective in their language – stating an opinion as fact. For example, “Where you do go on vacation each year?” This assumes the respondent has the means to routinely take a vacation, which isn’t the case for everyone.
  • Loaded questions: Like leading questions, these questions assume someone about the respondent that may not be true. For example, “What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?” This assumes the respondent has the means to take and enjoy vacation, which isn’t the case for everyone.

Understand how valid your survey is

Even a few responses can lead to helpful insights, but it takes a certain number of responses to be statistically valid, which means it can be considered an accurate representation of the population you’re surveying. This is another topic that could merit its own blog series, but SurveyMonkey has a helpful calculator for determining how many responses you need to have a valid survey.

Tell a story with the data

Chances are you’re planning to share these findings with someone other than yourself. If these people don’t nerd out on data, you’ll need to make your findings a bit more engaging. Beyond rattling off percentage increases and median scores, what’s the overall story from your survey results – particularly as it relates to your organization’s goals? PR people are supposed to be some of an organization’s best storytellers! Lean into this strength and find a compelling narrative from all the numbers and feedback in your survey results.

Do something with the data – even when it’s hard

A good survey takes some degree of time and resources. It shouldn’t all be for naught. Yet, this step trips up even the most well-intentioned organizations. Surveys – and all research – should be to inform current and future efforts. This is all well and good if they validate hypotheses and already discussed plans. But when they return something contrarian or challenging, an organization should be prepared to change course to align itself with its stakeholders.

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Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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