In our previous blog post, we explored What is a mode? Now that the types of modes are established, we ask ourselves the first of five questions: Who is the audience?
How to Select the Best Mode for a Survey
Who is the Audience?
A survey audience simply refers to the group of people targeted for the survey. It’s also common to refer to the audience as the survey population or universe, both of which imply the total number of people in existence who meet the desired participation criteria, such as role, industry, geography, etc. Defining the audience is an important step to getting the right data, as asking the “right” question to the “wrong” audience will not yield valuable information.
Of course, most of the time we can’t survey an entire population; rather, we collect data from a sample, or subset of that population. So, if you decide you want to run a survey, where do you get the sample? Sometimes, the source of the respondents will dictate the mode that must be used, so understanding how the audience can be accessed is an important consideration when determining mode.
Depending on the nature of the audience, sample may come from just about anywhere. A pollster may stop people on the streets to ask citizens to participate in a survey (often face-to-face). A business unit may leverage their own customer list to send a customer satisfaction survey. An academic may reach out to public or private institutions of their target research to ask questions. Some samples volunteer to join on a project-by-project basis (e.g., if the survey opportunity is posted for everyone to see on social media). However, for many business studies, survey sample is drawn from market research panels.
What is a panel?
A panel is a group of people who have agreed to be invited to online surveys. Typically, upon agreeing to join the panel, each respondent volunteers information about him or herself that the panel company can use to match those people with relevant surveys. Panels may be large or small, specialized or generalized. Feasibility will vary not only from panel to panel but also from request to request.
What types of audiences do panels include?
Since web surveys became more popular, panel companies have invested in inviting and profiling large groups of people who meet their clients’ data collection objectives. Since panels are constructed with the intent of servicing market demand, common audiences are often easily found by tapping into an online panel. However, if there is relatively low demand to survey a certain audience it may be less likely those people have been opted into the panel.
Takeaway: “Popular” audiences may be accessed through a panel to take a web survey; less-popular audiences may call for a different approach.
How are panelists targeted?
What is more, online panels rely on profiling – bits of data collected about a respondent upon sign-up or throughout survey participation (e.g., title, industry, geography, etc.). While every research panel may collect different information on their panelists, some popular tags that are often collected include:
It is impossible to collect exhaustive information on everyone. As such, many survey projects are looking for audiences that haven’t yet been profiled on the panel. Therefore, most web surveys pre-target panelists based on known information, then use screener questions to weed out respondents who do not belong. For example, if you are looking to target users of Software X, we may know they are likely to be in Technology roles at large companies (targetable criteria), but we won’t know their software usage prior to screening within the survey. If the software is very popular (i.e., a large percentage of technology professionals use it in the market), the qualifying rate may be high. Conversely, a niche software product will likely yield fewer responses.
With an online survey, the best bet to finding niche audiences is to target based on profiled information and make an informed guess about the qualifying rate, or percentage of respondents who will successfully pass through the screeners.
With a phone survey, profiling tags are a helpful starting place but not a limiting factor. To target niche audiences by phone, it’s often possible to leverage desk research, public or purchased lists, and referrals to efficiently reach the desired audience. For example, if Product X is the target of the survey, we can check to see if there are any customer logos or testimonials on the website to better target customers of Product X.
How does the audience prefer to communicate?
Until now, we’ve discussed how the respondent source is important to considering mode. It’s also important to consider the nature of the audience and how they can or would want to be reached. IT professionals are attuned to technology and may be inclined to take a survey online. However, this is not true of all professions. At Coleman, for example, we’ve run a few surveys in the agriculture space targeting farmers, who were more easily engaged over the phone. Additionally, some physician practices are still routinely using fax machines; technology start-ups are unlikely to do the same.
A further benefit for phone work is that we can re-engage respondents if needed. Since many of our surveys involve high-level respondents in the C-Suite, sometimes they need to drop off mid survey. High-level respondents may need a high-touch approach to scheduling and communication. With a phone survey, we can call the respondent back to finish the interview at another time.
Different age brackets, industries, professions, and geographies vary in their preferred methods of communication.
Takeaway: Know your audience! How do they like to communicate?
In the next post on our series, we will evaluate how the target sample size impacts mode.