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Write an effective communications survey

We share what we learnt from facilitating our recent Member Communications Survey.

Running a communications survey is an effective way to determine what your members really think about your content. But what you don’t want to do is simply open the floodgates to member feedback. We share what we learnt from facilitating our Member Communications Survey and offers tips that’ll help get your next survey started.

Understanding what your members think about the way you communicate with them is crucial. You’re producing content to engage with them and knowing whether or not it’s working, and why, is vital to the success of your association’s marketing strategy.

But mustering the get-up-and-go to write a communications survey is only the beginning. You want to ensure that the results you are producing are useful, and by useful, I mean real. You want the fruits of your labour to uncover realities, good or bad. And if you want to be creating knockout content that your members want to read, the more real information you gather, the better.

Conducting the 2019 Member Communications Survey taught me some key lessons about how to draw out useful answers and reap the benefits of real information.

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Determine your insights

As a content marketing agency that produces communications material and strategy implementation for our clients, the insights we can gain from a member communications survey are critical. We need to make sure that the type of information we gain from the survey functions to assist us in our work.

Determining what is relevant to your association’s marketing needs and what isn’t requires you to look at the end goal, or purpose of your survey. Are there any areas of your current marketing strategy that need a boost? Asking why something isn’t working can be very powerful. Here’s a list of questions to help get you started.

  • How do your association’s members access your content? Why?
  • What content do they use, and what do they ignore? Why?
  • Does your content benefit them in a specific way? Why?

You may already have an idea of the answers to these questions. Write them down in your process document, and use those answers to probe further.

Create a process document

Before you start writing your survey you need to organise your process. Before I got started, I began by documenting aims, methods and projections. This is particularly important if you want to create a benchmarking report that uncovers new trends. Without knowing where you were before you started, figuring out the difference at the end can be nigh impossible.

Writing down all the things you think you know will help you to decipher your aims, as it keeps your focus in check. It helps you set your standard, which, hopefully, will be proved or disproved by the results. I say ‘hopefully’ because, in some cases, results can end up pointing at nothing, which is the equivalent of survey limbo. This is what happens when survey questions haven’t been written effectively.

Write effective survey questions

Categorise for clarity

Start by dividing your survey into key themes and then think about the components under each theme that will determine results. Categorising your questions will not only help you to stay on track when you’re writing, it means that questions will come across to your reader in an ordered and logical way. You want to assist and facilitate the flow of the survey. It is also a good idea to start with easier, more response-friendly questions, so as not to put off your participants. Likewise, if the survey doesn’t have a logical progression, participants may become disengaged and careless.

Think about qualitative and quantitative question types

Qualitative questions ask for subjective, unique and individualised answers. These are the questions that participants have to answer in sentences. These results are very powerful, as they often provide a more emotive response. Quantitative questions attain ballpark, numerical results. They are usually delivered in multiple choice or ascribed answer format. The results tend to be more generalised, however they are a lot easier to process on your end. It is important to keep in mind that qualitative questions are more difficult for people to answer, and may act as a deterrent if over used. Also, quantitative questions can become repetitive if overused, creating lower care-factor in your participants. Balance here is key.

Watch what you’re saying

Questions can very easily be presented as statements. Asking someone how much they love your new website and giving them options ranging from ‘It was great!’ to ‘How do I marry your new website?’, will not deliver genuine results. All of your questions should be unassuming. How to check? Seek counsel from the devil’s advocate. Make sure you give your participant the option to tell you what they really think.

On a similar note, don’t ask ‘for the sake of it’ questions. Asking your members, readers or customers what they think of something that doesn’t directly relate back to your aims has the potential to skew your results.

Been there, done that: my cautions for avoiding nothing results


This is particularly important if you plan on running a survey annually. You want your questions to stay the same so that you can compare them to years past. Broadly speaking, consistency is also important to maintain in regard to style. Referring to your marketing material by different names at different times will confuse your participants and create confused results.


Keep a close eye on your terminology. You should never take your participants’ general knowledge, of anything, for granted. If there is any possibility that they won’t know what you are talking about, the question is flawed. Avoid abbreviations and keep your questions clear of industry buzzwords.

Loaded questions

I touched on this earlier, but it really is important to get right. Loading your questions with pre-assumed responses or failing to offer alternative choices to listed answers will either produce false data, or encourage your participants to abandon the survey. They will feel that it is not relevant to them, and it will reflect badly on your association.


If a survey is long and difficult to complete, there is usually only one thing that will keep participants in the game – incentive. Make sure that the incentive you are offering suits your target participants, and that it is balanced. If your incentive is not worth enough, people will dropout. On the other hand, if it is overblown, every man and their dog will want to participate, which will – you guessed it – skew your results.

Top tips for attaining meaningful survey results

Document your process: this is less complicated than it sounds and will ensure that the results of your work stay focused, professional and authoritative.

Test your questions: it’s always a good idea to put your survey past someone with fresh eyes, and preferably a target participant. Ask them if anything is unclear or if they felt coerced to answer untruthfully at any point.

Be consistent: although I noted inconsistency under my cautions, I think it is wise to be consistent within every aspect of the process. If you have multiple associates involved in the production of questions, assign a manager to oversee quality control and sign off.

Engage your participant: at the end of the day, results, good or bad, are better than no results at all. The aim is to get people to tell you what they really think. Incentives can be a strong influencer here, but clean, clear, interesting questions will take you a lot further than a free subscription.


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