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Remember Why You’re Running a Survey: Fun vs. Accuracy

It’s sometimes easy to forget when you’re faced with yet another customer satisfaction survey at a checkout counter, but surveys can be fun!

Just think of how many BuzzFeed surveys you’ve seen on Facebook.

“Which Disney Pet Are You?”
“Which 90’s Cartoons Are These Villains From?”
“How Strong is the Force With You?”

The list is practically endless.

But on the other hand, surveys are also a critical component of decision making for companies and politicians looking to make a profit or win an election.

These surveys provide audience insight, lead scoring, and/or employee information that’s crucial for keeping businesses and political campaigns running on all cylinders.

There’s obviously a huge difference between a quiz about Disney princesses and a customer satisfaction survey, so your survey’s purpose needs to be totally clear before you get started.

Be sure you know whether you're conducting a survey for fun or profit before you run it.

Running a Survey For Fun

Websites, newspapers, TV programs, and radio shows all love to quote survey results because audiences find them entertaining. Then, of course, there are the BuzzFeed examples from above that claim to give us deep personal insight based on just a handful of superficial questions.

Regardless of the medium we enjoy answering questions about ourselves. We also like to hear the results of other people’s surveys. It’s entertaining to learn other people's personal habits or political views and then compare them to our own reactions.

But most "fun" surveys do not need to follow accepted best practices for successful surveys. The time and expense needed to create a truly accurate survey just is not warranted.

And in fact, the entertainment factor is often higher for the results of a biased survey.

For example, years ago advice columnist Dear Abby ran a poll asking parents, "If you had to do it all over again, would you have children?"

She received more than 10,000 responses, and 75% of the respondents said they would not have children if they could start over.

The ensuing uproar (how could parents say such a thing?!) led to the commission of a more "scientific" survey using accepted practices.

The results of that study showed that 95% of parents would have children if they had to do it over again. But those results wouldn’t have been nearly as fascinating/appalling as the ones Dear Abby originally reported.


guide to great survey design


Running a Survey for Political Results

Unlike surveys created purely for entertainment, political surveys need to be more accurate. Politicians and political parties base serious decisions on their results, and even their entertainment value is closely tied to the accuracy of the surveys.

The Gallup organization, for example, has made a good business out of using rigorously accurate survey methods in their work. When there’s a discrepancy in results, it can call the entire polling process into question.

Compare two excerpts from USA TODAY from the 2008 presidential campaign (emphasis added):

"According to the latest AP-Ipsos national poll: Among Republicans surveyed, 23% 'can't or won't say which candidate they would back,' from their party's contenders, 'a jump from the 14% who took a pass in June.' Rudy Giuliani leads the list of those who are chosen, with 21% support."

"The AP-Ipsos results aren't backed up by the latest numbers from the Gallup Poll. Today, Gallup's Lydia Saad reports that 10% of Republicans responded with 'none' or 'no opinion' when Gallup asked which of the GOP candidates they support. In Gallup's latest survey, Giuliani leads among Republicans with 30%."

So, which poll was correct? There is no way to truly know unless we look at the methods used.

As we learned in the Dear Abby example, the methods affect the results. This is just as true for political polls as it is for Buzzfeed surveys: the way you ask the questions, the audience you ask, and the way you analyze your data all impact your ultimate conclusions.

Always Consider the Purpose of Your Survey

So, are your surveys for fun or profit? Businesses, we hope, strive for accuracy, but sometimes using accepted practices isn't worth the time and money involved.

Decide what purpose your survey will serve, and then you'll know if you should strictly follow accepted practices or do just enough to get your survey completed.

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