Experts ranging from research managers to customer care specialists have been recently pointing to a growing trend: internet surveys, once a hugely powerful tool for tapping the mind of the consumer, are increasingly being replaced by social media.
Despite the power commanded by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, this news would still have come as a surprise just several years ago. At one point, Online Surveys were a darling of the tech age; they rose to prominence alongside the dot com boom, as start-up companies like SurveyMonkey established a business model whereby anyone could create a survey online.
Such survey companies are still successful, but they are more and more often used by individuals and academic research institutions, not by businesses. This change can, in part, be explained by the success of online surveys themselves. Ten years ago, an online survey was novel enough that many consumers were willing to click on a survey and answer the associated questions. Five years ago they would have been less willing, but many businesses sensed this and shortened their surveys accordingly. Today, though, surveys are everywhere, and many internet users hesitate to answer even the shortest ones.
At the same time, social media offers some tools that provide a fuller picture of customer engagement. While surveys can capture what the customer is thinking, social networking sites can see and track that thought process in real time. This can be done by creating Facebook polls, giving out samples to people and then seeing what they write on your Facebook page, and by tracking Twitter for relevant updates, among other approaches. These approaches allow researchers to see what customers are thinking in the “real world” – rather than in the world of a survey, where people are more conscious of their comments. It also attracts a demographic different from those who self-select to take a survey.
But even if their luster is diminished, and even if social media provides opportunities that a traditional survey cannot match, it’s hard to imagine that online surveys will actual decrease in importance and in use anytime in the near future. At the end of the day, even if researchers want to augment their report with studies from social networking sites, surveys still allow companies to ask targeted questions of the consumer and clearly analyze the results. And because they’re generally cheap, easy, and useful, there’s no reason to abandon an approach that includes online surveys – even if social media now plays a bigger role.