Using Online Survey Tools
©2002 Cathy Chatfield-Taylor
Reprinted with permission from
"Technological Support: Benefits of Online Survey Tools," The Meeting
Professional, March 2002, pp. 116-117. Copyright, 2002 Meeting Professionals
International, Dallas, Texas.
The hard work of planning a meeting isn't over until you've evaluated your results. Did the event fulfill expectations? Were the site and services acceptable? What activities did people enjoy? Feedback helps you plan a better event next time, but getting it can be a challenge.
An online survey is a quick-and-dirty solution. Blast an e-mail the day after your event and invite participants to click a link to a Web-based questionnaire that takes just minutes to complete. Their responses are tabulated and reported in real time for you and your staff to review.
You'll get the best results from an online survey with a personalized invitation, an attractive incentive and multiple e-mail blasts to boost response. The advantages over a mail or telephone survey are low cost, quick turnaround times and easy access to an international audience.
Choose the right tool
Which survey tool you use depends on your budget, how comfortable you are designing your own questionnaire and how you want to analyze results. Look for these features:
- Questionnaires are easy to create without HTML coding.
- Multiple question formats (rated scales, multiple choice, open-ended).
- Import data for list segmentation and personalization.
- Results reported graphically.
- Analysis tools for cross tabulation.
- Export data for manipulation.
One free online survey tool is Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com), which lets you choose from among 100 templates to create a survey with up to 20 questions, mail it to your address list and view results online. It's a quick way to get answers to straightforward questions. For $599, you can purchase a 12-month subscription that includes more questions, up to 1,500 responses, and the ability to cross tabulate and receive results in spreadsheet format.
A more flexible package with pay-as-you-go pricing is WebSurveyor (www.websurveyor.com), which starts at $449 per survey with no limit on the number of questions or responses. Used by TheMotleyFool.com to evaluate its online seminars, WebSurveyor can be branded with the look and feel of your event.
Another option is software that enables you to embed a survey form in your Web site. Snap Survey Software
(www.mercator.co.uk) is a WYSIWYG questionnaire design, data collection and analysis program starting at $1,590 for a perpetual license. Its Internet module allows you to generate HTML code with the click of a button.
If you use an online registration application service provider, take advantage of the built-in survey tools. Using seeUthere
(www.seeuthere.com), for example, you can segment your registration database to poll different groups of participants - attendees, speakers, exhibitors, sponsors - and even select survey samples based on which sessions they attended.
A drawback of any do-it-yourself application is doing it yourself. To evaluate a large, multi-track conference, you may need a professional survey company such as exhibition research pioneer Exhibit Surveys Inc.
(www.exhibitsurveys.com). They can help define your objectives, design and deploy the evaluation instrument, and tabulate and report the results.
Boost your response
According to Exhibit Surveys Vice President Ian Sequeira, online surveys typically generate a 10 percent to 15 percent response. That's more than enough to draw valid conclusions about the success of your meeting, especially if you're dealing with a group of more than 500. But there's a caveat: Results will be skewed unless at least 70 percent of participants receive e-mail.
Make the e-mail address a required field on your registration form so you have addresses for all your participants. To deploy the survey, compose a short e-mail invitation and personalize the message with a compelling request from someone recognizable, such as the conference chair or company CEO. Respect respondents' privacy and give the option to opt out of future invitations.
An incentive such as entry in a prize drawing or a discount on next year's registration can boost response by 5 percent to 10 percent. After the initial blast, wait 48 hours, then send second invitations to everyone who hasn't responded. Each additional blast increases response by about 1 percent to 2 percent.
Keep the survey itself short. "Limit it to information that is necessary to have, not nice to get," Sequeira advises. Having a clear idea of how the data will be used, and by whom, will help you keep questions focused. And don't forget to thank them for participating!
In addition to sending an e-mail invitation, promote the survey on your Web site. Requiring a member I.D. number or e-mail address solves the problem of duplicate responses. You can even post the survey during the event and make completing the questionnaire a condition for using your cyber café or Internet message center.
Although mailing a paper survey may garner a higher response rate and yield more detailed information - questionnaires can be longer - an online survey is a quick-and-easy way to take the pulse of your audience immediately after an event. If you invite them, they will come (given the right incentive).
Cathy Chatfield-Taylor covers meeting technology as freelance writer and editor. Email her at: