The average response rate to an SMS survey in both marketing and social research sectors is between 15 and 20%. At Well Told Story we are regularly getting up to a 60% response rate when we survey our Shujaaz audiences. So how are we doing it?
Well it was not like this from the word go. For months we wondered where we were going wrong as we waited despondently for someone to reply to one of our many SMS surveys. However, along the way we’ve learned a few tricks to ensure a much higher response rate that we are glad to now share with you.
SMS surveys are nothing new in the world of research. Born shortly after the emergence of text messages, they have crafted a space for themselves in the researcher’s toolbox. What is new about our SMS surveys is the response rate we’re achieving.
Shujaaz boasts a huge SMS database of 300,000+ unique fans in Kenya. This database enables us to quickly get audience feedback via SMS surveys – we can gauge their reactions to the different media campaigns we produce, capture feedback on their experiences, understand their habits and preferences, deepen our findings from other research strands (e.g. national surveys and qualitative studies) and so on. SMS surveys are the perfect tool for dipstick check-ins with our audience.
Two years ago when we first tried SMS surveys for Shujaaz, our response rates were depressingly low, 20% at very best. This was frustrating, especially since (a) it did not cost anything to our fans to respond to the survey, and (b) we knew our fans had strong connections with the Shujaaz brand and our fictional hero DJ B who was sending them the messages. We felt something was amiss – fans are called “fans” for a reason, and the huge non-response was not fan-like behaviour.
Things changed dramatically earlier this year. Our SMS survey response rate grew to 50% and then to 60%. So what did we do differently? We trialled a variety of motivational techniques in the way we designed the surveys. Here are a few of the techniques we used that have had an impact on our survey response and (more importantly) completion rate:
- DJ B – the hero of Shujaaz, and the author of all our media – started introducing himself in every survey, even though he already communicated to Shujaaz fans via SMS prior to a survey to ensure each message felt truly personal.
- We motivated the respondents to complete the survey by first asking them to make an active choice to take part in the survey and committing to completing it. Using this protocol, we discovered that those who say “yes” feel compelled to follow through on their decision and to not disappoint DJ B.
- We’ve reduced the number of questions in each survey from over 10 to a more manageable 5 to 8, maximum, short enough to complete in one go.
- We use the local languages Sheng and Kiswahili – the two languages that our audience relate to most.
- We use ‘branched surveys’ in which every question is closely linked to the question before it, creating a better flow.
fig 1. branched survey structure
- We no longer use grid questions (questions with multiple strands) and keep questions (and pre-coded answers) short and clear. Although grid questions allow us to group questions together in a table format, they can become difficult to respond to.
fig 2. grid question structure
- We balance multiple-choice and open-ended questions at around 80%-20% in favour of multiple-choice ones which are quicker and simpler to respond to.
- We send reminders to those who have not responded to the survey – several but not so many as to annoy them!
While many of these tricks might be already known to some researchers, our most important finding is that using them in combination propels far more of our fans to complete the surveys.
Since we never want to be simply extractors and exploiters of information, we make it a point to share our insights and findings back with the fans so as to (a) stimulate a conversation around the findings and further validate them, and most importantly (b) show our fans that we are not collecting data for our benefit only – we are on this journey together with them and when we share information with each other, all of us benefit. This sharing completes the circle of reciprocity which helps to build trust and enhance the chances of future collaboration.
By Lavinca Achieng: Research Coordinator