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Having a great survey is one thing, but convincing other people that it’s great is another story. Deciding how you approach distributing your survey can greatly influence the way people perceive it, along with affecting the quantity and quality of the answers.

In fact, a poor distribution channel can often undermine all the other positive factors about your survey. No amount of incentives, nicely balanced question types or pretty colors, are enough to convince the mother of 3 screaming children that your survey on different brands of ice cream is worth their time (unless it’s something to keep the kids busy with).

The same rings true for the online world. A small business owner who’s running a tight schedule and dealing with multiple clients, is most likely going to give your email the flick straight to the spam folder.

And that’s okay, because your survey is not going to have a 100% response rate. The sooner you realize that, the more you can focus on getting the most out of the people that do end up participating in your survey. This is achieved by having an engaging and presentable survey that doesn’t fatigue the participant. But how do you get them there in the first place?

This article will discuss the different distribution channels that are available to survey creators and managers, along with how they relate to the business activity it applies to.

Internal surveys

An internal survey is typically conducted within the domain of a company, organization, team or community. They may be used to assess company morale and employee satisfaction, or another topic related to the business or industry.

Most large companies or organizations will perform an employee satisfaction survey every 6 months or annually, which gives employees a chance to (usually anonymously) express their opinions and thoughts on the working environment, and how improvements can be made. These can often be mandatory, so offering an incentive is slightly moot in this scenario (besides the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas).

In the case of a community or a team survey, a less formal approach may be taken and they might not always be mandatory. In this scenario, the prospect of inputting ideas might be enough incentive for some, but it should not be assumed that everyone will want to contribute. Communicating the benefits of a survey to your community or team members can help them understand why it’s important. For example, if a community expressed dissatisfaction with the behaviour of certain members, a community leader can input measures to prevent poor behaviour from persisting. Therefore, this would improve the overall quality and atmosphere of a group, without resorting to harmful or judgemental confrontations.

Whether you’re conducting a company or community survey, it is important to clearly communicate all aspects of the survey. This includes outlining how personal information is handled, whether the survey is anonymous or not, along with basic formalities such as number of questions and estimated amount of time for completion.

The more that respondents know about a survey and what the benefits are, the more likely they are to participate and trust the survey provider.

Internal surveys

Customer surveys

Creating context out of a customer survey is far more challenging than from a company or organization, because you’re not dealing with people you are already familiar with, and your participants may not be familiar with you either.

A customer survey will typically be presented to either a potential customer, or one who has already purchased your product or service. There are many creative ways to introduce your survey to people, here are some examples that can be used for inspiration:

  • Sending a follow-up email requesting feedback after a customer has purchased your product or service. This idea can be very effective, because a customer will most likely have your product or service still fresh in their mind, so they’ll be more likely to provide quality insight into their purchase.
  • Distributing a survey out to subscribers of an email listing or newsletter. Large companies regularly do this and is often very effective. In the case of an e-newsletter or email subscription, the request for a survey will conveniently tie-in with the regular stream of content they already receive from you. If a customer resonates with your brand and enjoys the flow of content you provide, then they may feel privileged to ‘give back’ to a provider who has served them well for so long. In saying this, developing trust is a huge aspect of this approach and should not be attempted in the early stages of signing people up to an email listing. This indicates you’re only interested in getting information from them and not providing good content.
  • Social Media. Distributing a survey through social media, in some ways, is quite similar to the newsletter idea. People will follow or ‘Like’ your company/community page on the basis of receiving quality content on a regular basis, much like a newsletter or subscription. Therefore, it’s important not to bombard a survey upon your followers during the early stages of developing your brand’s equity.

Followers who enjoy your presence or have criticism to share, will find this method of distribution very easy to follow through with, particularly since people often check their social media pages on a daily basis (as opposed to emails, which are prone to being forgotten about).

Customer surveys

Research surveys

These surveys are designed to collect information on a broad range of topics, either for scientific purposes, market research or public opinion. Depending on the topic itself, a research survey can have a very precise target audience or (for example, an opinion poll featured in the newspaper) it may be desirable to have a broad range of people to take the survey.

For scientific research, having your survey shared by reputable figures in your field of study (eg shared on their social media pages), can be an enticing way to have people participate in the process. You can also reach out to specific journals or websites, who may be willing to host the survey on their own platforms, which can result in branching out to new audiences.

Panel companies

To present a different approach to surveys, there exist companies who can seek out desirable respondents for your service, in exchange for a fee depending on the quantity of participants needed.

Panel companies thrive on receiving repeat clients, so most of them rely on getting high quality responses from whom they choose to participate. Nonetheless, because the participants are involved based on an incentive (usually money), there is never a 100 percent guarantee that the answers you receive will be honest or valuable to you. However, this is true for any incentive you offer with a survey, and a company that dedicates their time to finding the right participants are worth the investment, if it means getting results.


Irrespective of how you approach distributing your survey and what incentives you offer, be clear on what the business goals are and how you can best achieve them. An open and honest survey provider who can explain the benefits of a survey to their participants, will almost certainly succeed over a provider who is simply trying to ‘reach the numbers.’ Understand who your audience is and what methods will best resonate with them.

Øyvind's avatar
Øyvind Forsbak
As CTO and co-founder of Orient Software, Øyvind Forsbak oversees all of our organization’s technical matters. Since Orient Software's founding in 2005, Øyvind has guided the company's choices of technology to become a world class developer in .NET and modern JavaScript frameworks.
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