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Using Humor To Increase Survey Engagement

Using Humor to Increase Survey Engagement

[Originally published at Research Access] Here is an important topic that rarely gets much discussion. Why are surveys so humorless? Are we doing something so vital and critically important that we have to ask questions in such serious tones? We’re not performing surgery here; we are having a conversation with our customers via a survey (although I am sure even surgeons tell jokes to one another over the operating table). Don’t you open a conversation with your customers with some light talk and a couple of hardy har hars? Your surveys should follow the same practice.

Check your inbox and pull up the first survey you find. Is there anything lighthearted about the questions or are they all business? Why? Aren’t you more likely to respond to a survey that makes you smile?

I usually pepper my clients’ surveys with some humor. I have not put it to the empirical test but my experience and anecdotal evidence says that respondents are more engaged and we get higher response rates when we do the unexpected and give respondents a chuckle. And we certainly get many insightful and funny responses in return, which helps build our relationships with customers. Here are a few examples that I have found to be effective with web-based surveys:

1. The pop-up. If the respondent chooses YES on a particular item then a bit of text appears: “That’s great to hear!” or “Nice choice!” If respondent chooses NO on the same item then “Oh no!” or “Bummer” appears. My wife is a life-long Harley fan and rides a sharp Sportster, so was a pleasure advising on Harley-Davidson marketing surveys that successfully use this technique to bring respondents into their shops.

2. The instructions. Lighten up the mood from the opening: “…. Thank you for your time in completing this survey. It should take approximately 5 hours and 22 minutes. Just testing to see if you were reading these instructions. It should only take about 6 or 7 minutes to complete this survey…”

3. The one-off. The 3rd or 4th question of a survey is a good place to put an unrelated non-scored question that gives respondents an unexpected laugh. Best to make it obvious by having the final choice on that question something like “Hey, I don’t like humor in my surveys” or “What has this question got to do with anything?” or “Ah, I see, you’re just trying to lighten the mood with this unrelated question here!”

4. The confirmation page. Once the survey is submitted leave your respondents with a smile. Write a humorous phrase or a personal message – the same sort of greeting you would give to any friend in a face-to-face conversation.

Of course not all surveys do well with humor. Be sure that the purpose and the audience are appropriate. You do not want respondents to be offended or in a bad mood while answering questions about employee satisfaction, for example (hat-tip to Humor That Works).

Takeaway: Don’t take your surveys so seriously! A survey is a human conversation. Use some humor and lighthearted words in your survey instructions and questions just as you would in a conversation with a friend. You may discover higher response rates and more eagerness to fill out your surveys in the future, as well as a few interesting retorts from respondents that help build your relationship.


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