Personalized vs. Anonymous Surveys

The Internet has allowed users to become connected to all forms of media in an unprecedented and personal way.  For example, Google knows the sites that I visit most frequently and, therefore, caters to my tastes with its search results.

Unfortunately, the Internet also provides a level of anonymity that can lead users in a dangerous direction. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out the “Comments” section of any major news piece available online. Granting folks anonymity encourages candor, but it can also create a host of other problems.

So when you’re creating an online survey, should you offer anonymity?

Unfortunately, the answer is, “It depends.”

Each time that you create a survey, you must balance the pros and cons of anonymity with the impact of personalization. Here are a few things to consider before you launch an online, anonymous survey:

  • Full Candor from Respondents—Let’s be honest — respondents who feel “safer” knowing that you can’t identify them won’t be as inclined to hold back.
  • Response Rates—If respondents fear some form of retribution will follow the submission of their survey, they are likely to skip it completely.
  • Identity Protection—Studies have suggested that most drop-outs occur on survey pages that ask for personal information, such as demographics and email addresses. Many respondents fear that their sensitive information could be sold to marketing companies.
  • Inappropriate Responses—There’s always the chance that a bad apple will take your survey and use it as an occasion for vulgarity, bigotry, etc. Anonymity can increase this risk.
  • Ability for Follow-up—There may be times when responses will require further action on the part of the survey creator, whether to address a specific issue or adopt a certain policy.  Anonymous surveys make it impossible to follow-up to responses.
  • Reliability of Results—While anonymity may encourage respondents to be more truthful in their responses, it can also encourage them to be less diligent in fact checking. Misinformation tends to spread far more easily through anonymous sources because accountability is impossible. However, highly personalized surveys may incur instances of what we call social desirability, respondents saying what they think the survey creator wants to hear.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could create personalized surveys that were also anonymous? You can.

Anonymous surveys can be pre-populated to make the survey personal for each respondent.  Also, Intelligent Reminders enable the survey creator to send reminders to non-respondents, even in an anonymous survey.

So when walking the line between personalization and anonymity, consider your audience, the data you’re collecting and, of course, what you want your survey to say about you.