Reporters love data.
As a result, surveys can often be a trove of high quality and interesting statistics, but only if you do them right.
Here’s are five best practices for running a survey, as well as how to promote the final results:
1. Clearly define the goals and objectives of the survey.
Starting with a theme in mind or a story you’re looking to tell is a key first step. Make sure every question is designed to help tell that overall story (regardless of whether the results come back in your favor). This will also help you evaluate whether to use a third-party database (wide pool of opinions, titles, backgrounds) or your customer database.
2. Pose every question creatively.
The biggest mistake my teams have found when designing surveys is that the question is phrased all wrong, leading to either bias (in terms of industry, profession, region, age) in answers or frustrating conclusions.
For example, asking people to choose their “top three” won’t yield as interesting data as if you asked them to rank their top three. Ranked answers help you prove what respondents truly care about.
One of my colleagues also suggested calling the sales rep at the survey company you’re using, because they often have additional insight into question phrasing.
3. Test, test, and test again.
Looking over the survey for typos won’t be enough (I’ve made that mistake.) Instead, run a “beta test” with employees; it can often weed out design flaws. You’ll learn if there was any confusion with the terms or questions, as well as poke holes in questions that don’t yield good data if answered a certain way. (For example, if everyone answers “all of the above,” you could be in trouble.)
4. Take SurveyMonkey to its extreme.
The raw results of your survey may look a little bland. Never fear, many free or low-cost survey sites offer additional analysis tools.
For instance, SurveyMonkey has a handy “cross tabs” tool in which you compare one question—such as gender or location—against another, often yielding a whole other perspective. Don’t simply take the data at face value; there’s always a creative way to compare it against other factors or trends.
5. Once the survey is over, the work (and fun) really begins.
Don’t think for a second that once you’ve gathered your data you’re done. Instead, if done right, your survey should open up many other opportunities for your company, from pitching the results, to creating a white paper or survey report, to generating an infographic.
Kate Ryan is an account supervisor at Affect, an award-winning public relations and social media agency. A version of this story ran on the blog Tech Affect.