As a digital PR pro, the world is our oyster. We can take our creativity and love of storytelling to new heights. From dabbling with new AI technology to discovering new trends using Google or datasets, we hate to make people jealous, but our job is incredibly fun.
There are so many different avenues you can take when creating content, but one go-to campaign format that we love is surveys.
Surveys allow us to gather brand-new information, giving us a first look at everything from styles to generational or regional habits. We can survey sports fans about their love of baseball or ask Gen Zers to open up about their takeout habits.
Essentially, surveys give us the opportunity to become thought leaders in whatever industry this content will be featured. Not only that, but journalists seem to have an insatiable thirst for consumer insights– which is exactly what a well-constructed survey can deliver.
While anyone can slap together survey questions, there’s a lot to keep in mind to make your work stand out. Competition is fierce in the digital PR world, so, here’s our guide to the best practices to level up your campaigns before (and after!) you start writing your survey questions.
Our job as digital PR experts is to spearhead content worth covering. Not just any content, but content that is trustworthy in the eyes of a journalist.
So, before you even get to the prep work, the best practices for surveys begin with figuring out which platform you want to use. Creating stellar surveys often starts with using the best survey tools out there.
There are a number of survey platforms out there and some are free. But keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve. Will your survey platform offer…
When we run surveys for our digital PR campaigns here at Digital Third Coast, we always aim to survey 1,000 people or more. Having 1,000 respondents is considered the sample size necessary to speculate on broad trends nationwide.
If you go with a free survey platform or try to run a survey through social media sites such as LinkedIn, be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to reach the total number of respondents you want. Also, go into it with the clear understanding that it will be harder to screen your respondents. You may end up needing to remove data from people who ignore your requirements.
For example, if you’re trying to survey people 21 and older about alcohol, you don’t want to survey anyone who is legally underage, and you’ll need to remove anyone underage who didn’t closely read the requirements before taking the survey.
|Free Survey Platform||Paid Survey Platform|
|Takes longer to find & survey desired respondents||Takes less time to find & survey desired respondents|
|Often lower quality respondents||Higher quality of survey respondents|
|Often not as respected by journalists||Good reputation among journalists|
Here at DTC, the survey platform site we use allows us to reach 1,000 respondents who match our screeners in as little as an hour sometimes! That alone helps us speed up the campaign process and improve efficiency.
On top of that, the platform allows us to easily pre-screen participants, so we can zero in on anything we want from specific generations to regions to hobbies. In our opinion, that alone is worth the cost of a quality survey platform. Time is money and being able to find 1,000+ respondents quickly and easily is worth every penny.
So, how much does it cost to run a survey? That really depends on the platform you’re using, but at the end of the day, know that a quality survey could easily cost more than $1,000. It’s pricey, but getting access to brand-new, exclusive data that’s yours to promote and share makes it worth it.
Another key reason for using a quality survey platform is because of who you’re trying to reach with your digital PR work. These platforms offer high-quality respondents, protecting your study from survey bots, and helping you connect with respondents who really fit into your preferred screeners.
On top of that, we find a number of journalists will reach out to us and ask us what survey platform we use, and because ours comes with a good reputation, reporters trust it. A huge part of the outreach process is having that trusting relationship with the media. Having the name of a high-quality survey platform behind your work will automatically help forge a stronger relationship with the outlets you’re reaching out to for coverage.
Prolific, Pollfish, and SurveyMonkey are just some of the popular survey platforms that can be used to gather data for your digital PR campaign.
Trustworthy survey sites also make it easy to get more information if and when a journalist needs it. Our platform gives us the access and ability to reach out to the people who took our survey for follow-up questions. Along with the demographic information we collect, the site also has some of its own.
One time a journalist wanted to know the county of origin of everyone who had taken our survey. We had asked the survey respondents what state they currently lived in, but did not have their birthplace. However, our platform did, so we were easily able to draw up that information and pass it along to a journalist who ran the piece and in return gave us a nice do-follow, high DA link.
Okay. So you’ve chosen which site you’re planning to use to run your survey: What’s next in the process? This may seem self explanatory, but don’t brush off the prep work.
We promise you: the extra time you spend ahead of writing your survey questions will save you countless headaches. Prepping will help guide your vision for your content piece. Break down your survey writing prep work by focusing on these three simple things:
First, give yourself the time you need to research the topic you’re covering, even if it’s something you know a lot about. Although you may be knowledgeable about the topic because of everyday experiences, don’t forget you often aren’t looking at it through the lens of digital PR, but your own personal experience.
While your prior insight might help you with your research, you also need to take a step back and think about it from the perspective of others. It’s easy for personal experience to give you tunnel vision, but research can help expand your view, and including others in the initial creation process will allow you to grow that perspective. We all have our inherent biases, but being self-aware will help you, in essence, create better digital PR work.
Once you’ve done your research, then start focusing on your rough outline by examining the angles you’re planning to take with your survey. We even recommend visualizing what headlines could work best for your study.
Let’s say you’re surveying Gen Zers about their workout habits. You could zero in on a few different topics including workout preferences (frequency, location, type), workout finances (gym costs, gear costs, etc.), and reasons for working out. This will help you get a general idea of what your final piece will look like.
That’s not to say this is exactly what it will be like once complete. Obviously, you can’t predict the outcome of your survey and the data that it will provide, but coming into the piece with a rough outline will help you as you create your survey questions and make sure you’re not forgetting something important.
After and only after doing these first two steps, should you start working on the survey questions. Although you may be itching to get all the survey questions written and move on with the process after the initial work, take your time!
Bad survey questions = bad data.
While you can edit everything from text messages to social media posts nowadays…you can’t edit survey questions after it’s completed! The questions you write and create will be the ones you’re stuck with, so don’t pound out your survey questions and then immediately launch the survey.
Write your survey questions and maybe focus on a different project or take your lunch break before reviewing your work. Give the process time to breathe and definitely have a colleague look over your questions and give suggestions. Two heads are better than one!
A crucial part of surveys is the questions. Everything down to the wording of each question and the format can make a difference in the final data you receive. You can know everything about the mechanics of how to run a survey, but if you don’t spend the time creating and tweaking questions before launching the survey it will hurt you in the long run.
At the heart of it, you need to ask questions that will get you the best results.
There are various types of survey questions out there that you can use, but keep in mind some will take longer to answer than others. If you do a 30-question survey with only open-ended questions, that could take people a really long time to finish the survey. This is a problem in a few different ways.
If a survey takes too much time to complete, people may abandon it or not even take it in the first place. So, you need to be conscientious about the questions you ask and keep track of how long it will take people to complete.
There’s no magic survey length for the best results, but we normally aim for our surveys to take 4 to 5 minutes maximum.
Broken down simply, here are some of the most common survey questions we turn to while running surveys:
Multiple choice questions are one of our go-to survey questions. We use multiple choice questions most often to ask a simple yes or no question. When working with data, a question format like this is very useful because it provides a clear-cut answer.
The broadness of many other question types such as select all that apply questions or open-ended questions often leads to less clear answers making it hard to determine how people truly feel about a certain topic.
In a way, think of multiple choice questions as the “black and white questions” of surveys while other question types live within the “gray area” of questions. Multiple-choice questions make it easy to get definite opinions on topics from your survey takers.
Select all that apply questions allow you to ask respondents more of an open-ended style question without giving them the free rein they would get with actual open-ended questions. These questions provide more leeway than a strict multiple-choice question, but the decision of how much or how little leeway is up to you! Our recommendation is to keep it concise.
Say you’re asking someone about their favorite dog breed. If you list out every single dog breed, that will be a very long list. As a survey taker that would be exhausting to comb through, and, as the survey designer, you could run the risk of getting bad data.
People could get tired of reading through the options and end up just clicking random dog breeds no matter the consequences to the research. The best way to avoid having this happen to you is to follow survey best practices and consolidate these questions.
Maybe ask people to choose their favorite dog breed based on the most popular breeds over the past five years. Or, have them choose their favorite dog breed based on the dog type (working, herding, toy breeds). That way the options are a lot smaller and digestible.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, forced-answer questions such as multiple choice questions often provide more accurate results than these select all that apply questions. There are a number of reasons for this, but one discovery has been that people often click the answers at the top of the list rather than comb through all the results. This isn’t to say never use select all that apply questions, but be mindful of how much you do and how many options you include with these question formats.
Survey ranking questions are a great way to put together lists for digital PR campaigns. You can have survey respondents rank their top five favorite NFL teams or have them choose the top three reasons they like to go outside in the summer.
The results from these questions can easily create top-notch data in campaigns without taking too much time. These types of survey questions are ideal in digital PR when we’re often putting together campaigns with lists or rankings.
Interestingly enough, sometimes even just noting that your study has a ranking can help with coverage! We did an internal analysis of our open rates and found that the campaigns that got some of the most open rates had the word “ranking” within the subject line. So, don’t discount ranking questions when putting together your survey.
While similar in part to ranking questions, rating questions are often limited to one statement or question.
Rather than ranking the top movies in 2023, a rating question would have you rate each individual movie on a scale from one to five. These questions can also help create a ranking of sorts, but can also take a lot more time to complete than others. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the time and energy to do.
One of our most successful campaigns of 2022 was based on a survey comprised only of rating questions. In a piece for a sports betting client, we had sports fans rank the look of each team’s sports uniform in one league. The survey respondents ranked each uniform on a scale of one to five, and we determined the average to comprise the rankings. In the end, the five-minute survey was well worth it. The piece ended up getting more than 300 links!
Open-ended questions can transform your campaign, but they can also be a time-suck and difficult to analyze, especially if you have 1,000 responses to go through. These types of survey questions can give your respondents a voice.
In their own words, they can tell you more about a specific subject or situation. Sometimes we find that these questions result in a perspective you may not have even thought about! Of course, the other side of it is that these questions can take a long time for people to fill out. These open-ended questions can quickly turn a five-minute survey into a 10-minute one.
Also, when surveying 1,000+ people, analyzing results from these types of questions can also take a long time.
Aside from using these types of questions for longer explanations, we also recommend open-ended questions to get averages. If you’re asking people how much money they spend on concert tickets you could give them some options, but open-ended questions could give you a way more accurate count. Rather than writing out every pricepoint from zero to $1,000, let people fill out that information, so you can easily determine the average.
Using an open-ended question in this type of way will not take as much time, and therefore could still be used to keep your survey efficient and easy to analyze.
Once your survey is complete, that’s where the fun starts. Just because your survey is done doesn’t mean the survey process ends. Instead, this is where you can really dive into the numbers and make sense of all the exclusive data that’s now yours to break down and share. If you’re getting tired at this part of the process, do not lose steam!
We have people take our surveys through Google Forms, which puts together a really nice layout of all the data once completed. But while you can eyeball the data and analyze some of it from there, that’s only scratching the surface!
Our favorite way to go over data is by using pivot tables. Pivot tables can make your data sing. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true.
Do you want to know how Gen Zers feel about your question? With a few clicks of a button, you can see how each generation answered. How about the difference between men and women? Or how people with different incomes answered? Based on the demographic questions you asked, you can do this in-depth analysis without taking too much time.
Think, if you just took the surface-level data from a multiple-choice question you could have only had: 99% of people think pivot tables are cool. But with analysis that one question could show you:
The list goes on and on! Obviously, these are all made-up stats and some of these statistics wouldn’t necessarily lead to a good story but don’t forget that your survey questions are a bottomless well of knowledge. This is why demographics are ultra important. Not only are they important for your methodology, but they are the key to breaking down questions and getting additional data that could change your entire campaign focus.
Now, all of this to say, don’t overstuff your digital PR campaign with stats. It’s easy to get caught up in how much great data you have and then try to oversell it.
Depending on your data, it could be ideal to actually keep some of it out of the piece. We’ve found that it is powerful to offer up exclusive stats to journalists while pitching out pieces. It not only gives the journalist something others don’t have but can also improve your relationship at the same time.
While it’s easy to get into a routine of creating and launching surveys, don’t let yourself fall into it. Put the time and energy into creating survey questions that are well-written. Format them in a way that you think will best showcase the data in the end, and analyze that data to no end once your survey is complete!
Gathering data that you own and no one else does is really powerful. This can not only help your client grow as a leader in their field and industry but build their relationship with media outlets as well. Surveys, when done right, can level up your digital PR campaigns.