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The Science Behind Surveys

Research is the backbone of any campaign, and the BrandJRNY team takes it just as seriously as programmer Ada Lovelace when she created the first algorithm for the modern computer. All of the research we conduct, collect and analyze lays the foundation for the rest of the work we do in our community branding plan. This research influences the creative portion of the campaign, including the creation of the logo and color schemes, as well as guides the strategies and tactics used to reach the campaign objectives.


Surveys can be a fantastic tool when conducting research that requires the opinions and insights of those who aren’t easily accessible. With various platforms in existence with the sole purpose of creating and distributing surveys online, like Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey, it’s easier than ever to reach these groups. That being said, there is so much more time and work that goes into creating a proper survey than one—including myself before starting this process—can imagine. Addressing these few steps are a great place to start if you’re new to the vast world of surveys:


1. What are you trying to get answered?

What is your study about? What are you seeking to learn about? Although this step sounds basic, it’s crucial to make sure your survey has a clear subject. Respondents of the survey will be thrown off if asked about more than one topic within a study and could even become frustrated by the confusion of it all.


2. Figure out your target audience.

Identifying who you want to participate in your survey is extremely important, as presenting it to everyone can skew your results or dilute the responses that you’re actually looking for. It’s more likely that you are only seeking a specific set of people’s thoughts and opinions on your research topic, which is why two steps need to be taken when reaching your target audience. The first step occurs while creating the survey. Setting up various display logic and respondent blocks will prevent certain people from completing the survey, depending on how they answer the initial questions. The second step is how the survey is promoted. Appropriate messaging is essential in social media posts, email blasts and all other forms of distribution to assure that the desired public is responding.


3. Craft your questions and their responses carefully.

There are many rules on how and how not to create the perfect survey, and each platform has its own list of how you should tackle it, like Qualtrics' 10 Commandments which I highly recommend giving a read.


A few best practices when crafting the survey questions is to try and keep it as concise as possible, while still gathering as much information as possible. In longer surveys, you will see a drop off of respondents at some point in the survey due to the diminishing attention span of users.


4. The metadata is mega important.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s all in the details,” and this time, it’s true. Metadata, or a set of data that gives information about other data, is crucial to the makeup of your survey. It determines aspects like how the survey will appear to users in their email inboxes and on social media platforms. The metadata also affects the more simpler things that most people wouldn’t even think of, such as the name shown in the tab at the top of the browser. These details might seem small, but it’ll go a long way to making your survey seem more thorough and professional.


5. Check, check and re-check. Then check again.

I cannot stress enough how important this step is. Even when you feel like you’ve reread and tested your survey so much that your eyes could roll out of your head, you should probably check it a few more times. Once that’s done, have someone else look it over. They’ll be more likely to catch a mistake that you missed because you’ve become so familiar with the content. There’s nothing worse than publishing your survey and then seeing all the mistakes you didn’t catch before people started taking it.


Another tip that wouldn’t hurt to try out would be to print off a copy of the survey and read aloud from the physical copy. Reading your work outloud will help you hear the flow of each question and response, making sure it all sounds natural and won’t confuse the reader.


6. Sit back and watch the data roll in.

Congratulations! Now that your survey is out in the world, you can finally breathe and relax as the responses start to come in. Watching your hard work come to life might be one of the best feelings if you’re a true data-loving nerd like many of us on the BrandJRNY team.


Data from one of BrandJRNY’s latest surveys. | Source: Anne Parker

Anne Parker, BrandJRNY research director, is a senior at West Virginia University, graduating in December of 2019. She loves all things digital, data-based, and social networked. Check out her work at anneeparker.com, and if you’re a glutton for punishment, follow her on various social media platforms @annep901.

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Housed at the WVU Media Innovation Center, BrandJRNY is a community branding initiative that is a grant-funded collaboration between the American Electric Power Foundation and WVU Reed College of Media.

The Initiative was previously funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation for our three pilot projects.

Original website designed by Mariah Elliott, under the direction of PI and Director Dr. Rita Colistra.

Photos and content may not be used without written permission by contacting brandjrny@gmail.com.

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