Incentives are an important recruiting tool, but they are also a lot of work. They eat up a lot of time and there are lots of headaches. Not only do you have to buy rewards and then send them, you have to track them as well. And when respondents complain, you have to spend time resolving those complaints.
Sometimes, after all that effort, you still don’t get the response rates you needed. Here’s the good news: incentives don’t have to be that hard. Read on to learn everything you need to reward your participants in the right ways.
What is a survey reward or incentive?
A reward or incentive is a benefit you offer to participants in return for taking your survey. It could be in the form of a gift card, a discount, entry into a sweepstake or another form. Offering incentives for survey completion is a common practice, especially for questionnaires that take up a significant amount of someone’s time to complete.
Why use survey incentives?
The main reason businesses use survey incentives is to motivate people to take part.
Offering an appealing incentive has been shown to boost response rates and completion rates alike. Incentives and rewards can also strengthen relationships with panel members and encourage them to remain involved, as it shows your appreciation for their time and effort.
Does my survey need an incentive?
While there is an obvious case for offering survey rewards, it’s not a given that you need them every time. For a very short survey consisting of a few quick questions, an incentive is rarely needed.
And even for longer surveys, rewards may not always be required. Some organizations have succeeded by simply emphasising the intrinsic participation rewards to their panel members.
Why would someone take a survey or join a panel without an incentive?
For some people, it’s because they’re interested in the industry or research you’re conducting, they want to see the results of your research, and they genuinely care about your brand and success. They may also feel that their opinion might be valuable to your brand.
For example, Schwann’s Food Services doesn’t use a survey rewards program. They have panel members that are dedicated to the brand and they get a 30-45% response rate on general customer surveys within their panel.
If you choose to run your panel without incentives, follow these tips to maximize your chances of success:
- Observe survey best practices. Make surveys as simple and easy to complete as possible, and ensure they are mobile-friendly so participants can take them anywhere.
- Maximize ease. Don’t use a login portal. It’s easier to send them a smart link to the survey than have them try to remember a username and password.
- Frequently express your gratitude. Participants will be motivated if they feel you genuinely care about them and value their feedback.
- Personalize the interactions with your panel. The more personalised the interactions are the more they’ll feel valued individually.
- Establish two-way communication with the panel members. They should be able to give you feedback on how the panel experience is going, and know you’re accessible.
- Share how their feedback is helping your organisation make decisions from the insights you gathered from their surveys. Since they’re participating to help you make better decisions, they will feel valued if they know their specific contributions.
How will using incentives affect my data?
Data quality is a common concern with survey incentives, since offering tempting rewards can attract people who are only interested in the prize and don’t care about your research.
There’s also the question of whether offering a reward could alter someone’s attitudes and answers. By making things transactional, are you shifting the emphasis away from the survey and towards the incentive? In this scenario, your survey becomes a means to an end and is given less attention or thought than it might have received otherwise.
Another worry is that offering a very generous prize could introduce bias, making participants feel more positive than they otherwise would about your business. They may answer in glowing terms, but their short-term gratitude could be masking the more balanced opinions you’re really interested in.
Despite these considerations, research shows that offering incentives doesn’t seem to negatively affect survey outcomes in most cases. For example, when Cole et al. compared incentive vs. non-incentive groups in a controlled study, they found that incentivised groups actually produced better quality data.
3 Survey incentive types
Maximizing response rates starts with offering the right reward for your study.
There’s really no cookie-cutter solution here. For rewards to be effective, they should get your participants excited and engaged. There are numerous ways to reward participants, but most survey rewards programs fall into a few main categories.
1. One-off survey prizes
A quid-pro-quo scenario where the participant gets a reward after taking a survey. The reward might be a digital voucher or code.
The instant reward makes this a compelling proposition for participants, and could be a good way to get a lot of respondents in a short space of time.
Unless you set your rewards system up well, you may leave yourself open to people rushing through a test or providing meaningless data in order to get the reward. You may benefit in participant quantity but lose out on quality.
Another consideration is the length of your study and whether you want people to keep returning to take more surveys. If you reward them the first time, you are setting expectations for rewards that you may not be able to meet in the longer term.
2. Points-based program
With a points system, you incentivise participation over time, without having to do it after every survey. Respondents receive points for each interaction and eventually accumulate enough for some type of reward.
Panel members control their own ability to earn a reward. They don’t need to rely on random chance, which will draw higher participation. It’s also adaptable over time because you can offer different amounts of points depending on the length, complexity, or urgency of gathering information.
With this approach, it’s easy to adjust how much you want to give to panel members and how quickly they can earn the reward. The Qualtrics platform makes it easy to fully automate survey rewards by setting up logic to reward panel members after they achieve a predetermined number of points.
Depending on how many participants you have, this approach can be very expensive because you need to reward every panel member that earns enough points, not just one person (as you would with a sweepstake). It’s less predictable from a budgeting standpoint because you don’t know how many people will take the survey.
Offer a set number of rewards tied to participation in one survey, or a random drawing during a period of time (monthly, quarterly).
Overall, this approach is less expensive because you’re only rewarding a few people instead of everyone. It’s easy to budget for and you can determine each year how many draws you’ll do and how much you’ll give each time. It’s also simpler to administer if you don’t have software that automates it for you.
Sweepstakes require legal terms to administer them correctly. Typically, they drive lower response rates because participants know their chance for receiving a reward is small.
Creative (and cheap) reward ideas
If your budget is small, or you’d like to do something a bit different from the standard gift card with your survey prizes, why not try one of these ideas?
- Sample product or service
Offer winners early exclusive access to new prototypes or soon-to-be-released products
Hats, bags, pens, stickers… whatever merchandise you have available can become a survey reward.
- Personalised products
If you sell physical goods, personalize an item for the winner by adding their name or chosen information to the design.
- VIP access
Panel members who are devotees of your brand may be motivated by a chance to visit your premises, meet the founders or see behind the scenes.
- Social media shout-out or promotion
Honoring sweepstake winners publicly on your social channels could be an attractive offer, especially if you have a large following.
- Event entry
Tickets to an event you are part of or that are happening within your industry can be a valuable and cost-effective prize.
- Sponsorship or naming rights
Make winners a part of your brand by giving them an honorary mention on product packaging or marketing.
- Free shipping
Shipping prizes can be cost-effective thanks to their perceived value to your customer and the fact that they promote continued purchases from you.
- Discount coupons
Like shipping, discount coupons offer value to the customer as well as promoting future sales for you.
- eBooks or audiobooks
Digital products are low in cost and easy to deliver, and make an attractive prize since the winner can choose the title they want.
- Premium memberships and upgrades
If applicable to your business, offer a time-limited upgrade to a paid-for tier or service.
Avoid abuse of your reward program
While offering survey rewards can be a valuable way to boost participation among your panel members, unfortunately there will always be those who join in just for the rewards and don’t take the survey research part of the equation as seriously.
If you’re concerned that by offering incentives and prizes you may attract people who rush through surveys, give straight-line answers or even misrepresent who they are to meet eligibility criteria, rest assured, there are ways you can protect yourself while still rewarding genuine participants.
Configure your survey for safety
When you set up your survey in Qualtrics, you can make use of protection features that help stop abuse from dishonest survey takers who may want to take the survey multiple times for multiple rewards, pass the link on to other people or take part in studies they’re not eligible for. These protection settings include password protection, one-time-only participation for each taker, and http referrer verification.
In the event that your survey has to be distributed as an open link that anyone can access, try to manually review and approve respondents. The approval workflow should be easy and built into your incentives tool. Remember to communicate to your respondents that their reward requests are subject to review and approval. This is an effective deterrent against abuse.
Match your reward to your audience
A generic reward such as a monetary voucher has a very broad appeal. But something more targeted, such as baby food coupons for new parents or gardening magazine subscriptions for those with green thumbs, can have a self-limiting effect, since only the people you’re interested in will be interested in your rewards.
Reward a charity, not a person
You can bypass a lot of self-seeking behaviour by providing the incentive not to the survey taker but to a charity partner instead. Genuine participants may still be motivated to do something for a good cause, whereas those looking to game the system will lose interest.
Don’t waste budget on unclaimed rewards
Have you ever stopped to analyse how many of your market research incentives never get claimed? On average, 10-20% of rewards go unclaimed. That’s a big chunk of your DIY research budget.
There are many reasons respondents never claim their rewards. For example, people sometimes use a secondary email address for surveys and then forget to check it for their rewards. Or they are too busy and file away your reward email, never opening it.
If you have 600 respondents for a survey and you offer a £25 reward, if 15% go unclaimed, that’s £2250 you just wasted. A better solution is to work with a market research incentives provider that refunds you for unclaimed rewards.
Many research methodologies rely on keeping responses anonymous. If your research is overseen by an IRB (Institutional Research Board), you may even need to prove this to the IRB.
So it is important to avoid asking survey respondents to provide their email address within the survey to receive their incentive. Asking for that email address within the survey can compromise the anonymity of the survey response. When your respondents see an embedded email question in the survey, it may make them unconformable about sharing information and you will end up with a high number of incomplete surveys.
The solution? Decouple the reward delivery process from the survey. Create a second, unrelated survey which is linked to only from your main research questionnaire. On arriving at the new survey, participants can leave their personal details so you can contact them to award a prize.
Make sure you communicate clearly in the survey text that you’ve taken this step to protect anonymity and that any contact details will not be associated with the main survey data in your backend system.
How to add incentives to your research program
With Qualtrics, survey rewards are easy to integrate into your research program. We work with trusted partners Rybbon and Tango Card to make offering incentives for survey completion easy and seamless.
With Rybbon, you can offer a points-based reward system or a one-off prize within your Qualtrics research program. Rybbon offers prizes from retailers like Amazon, Apple, Target, Grubhub and more, as well as e-donations. Prizes are digital and can be sent anywhere in the world.
With our Tango Card integration, you can take advantage of a free rewards management platform that works seamlessly with Qualtrics surveys. Distribute digital rewards to survey participants automatically and keep track of respondents and recipients through the Tango Card platform.