The use of incentives in survey research is a common method for encouraging respondent participation in surveys. Incentives can come in many forms, such as cash, gift cards, a lottery payout or even the chance to win a tropical beach getaway vacation package. The incentive compensates a respondent for their time and participation in a survey
However, incentives are just one of many factors that affect survey participation, so before you spend money to fund your incentives, consider whether it’s really necessary or even appropriate.
When to use an incentive
An incentive is generally appropriate if you anticipate difficulties in achieving the desired number of completed interviews for your study. This is especially the case when your target audience is limited in size and if there is no compelling benefit for them to take your survey. Busy executives, physicians, or even government officials can be hard to reach, and you will need to highly incentivize them.
Also, take a look at indicators within your survey which may suggest a potential for poor participation. Long surveys or difficult tasks (e.g. too many open ends) within a survey can make them challenging or time-consuming to take. Without proper compensation, a person may just abandon your survey.
The survey sponsor is also a very strong driver of survey participation. If your survey is unbranded or comes from an unrecognized source, it will more often than not be disregarded. People will have some suspicions about opening your survey or simply see it as something not worth their attention. An incentive is necessary in these difficult cases especially when you have a limited or finite list of contacts to recruit for your survey. You’ll want to maximize participation rates with the contacts that you do have in order to fill the sample size quotas you may have for your study.
When not to use an incentive
You may be able to forego the use of incentives if you anticipate few of the challenges discussed earlier. In many situations, people are happy to take your survey and enjoy providing feedback to help others as long as you don’t make the process difficult for them. Customer satisfaction or customer experience surveys, for instance, usually do not come with an incentive. Customers appreciate the value of providing feedback as a way of being heard and they understand the purpose is to improve products and service offerings that they benefit from. As well, customers that do business with you will have an established relationship with your brand. People that have a connection with the survey sponsor or when a highly recognized brand is involved, are more likely to fill out the survey.
Careful consideration with incentives should be made when running tracking studies or applying norms to your research. This is because an incentive will engender positive feelings towards your survey. This not only has the effect of encouraging participation, but also positive survey feedback. Studies have shown that a survey respondent will give higher product ratings or express slightly higher satisfaction when given a monetary incentive versus not. For trending purposes, it would not be appropriate to compare data from a study using an incentive versus one that did not.
Once you decide whether or not your study should include an incentive, you must then determine what type of incentive to offer and how much. This can be dependent on the size of your budget as well as who will be taking your survey. Generally speaking, you’ll want to consider an incentive that your target audience will value, which may or may not be financial compensation. Sometimes access to information (an industry report) or something unique (an autographed baseball) can be just as valuable. It pays to be creative with incentives and consider both the benefits and potential concerns when using them. For more information on incentives, including how much to offer, see our blog discussing how incentives impact response rates.