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Complete Guide to Online Survey Field Management & Administration


Surveys are an invaluable research method for collecting accurate and meaningful data. They are not merely research tools but part of a unique and distinct process that will generate the data. Field management is a crucial aspect of this process. 

Table of Contents

What is Survey Field Management?

Survey field management is the process of distributing the survey to your target audience and overseeing the collection of responses. Quality field management provides timely, consistent, and accurate data collection. Poor field management can result in systematic errors in the dataset and biased results. 

Field management includes preparation & logistics, distribution & data collection, and post-survey administration. Although this post focuses on online quantitative surveys, many of these field management tips apply to surveys more broadly, regardless of the mode. 

Preparation & Logistics

Fielding an online survey is an ongoing process that requires attention to detail and effective communication with your target audience. The following steps will help you prepare to field a successful online survey. 

Choosing Your Survey Distribution Method

To effectively reach your target audience, it’s important to choose the right distribution method(s) for your online survey. In addition to your audience characteristics and survey goals, it is also important to consider budget and available resources, such as specific software, platforms, and technical expertise. IntelliSurvey, for example, makes it easy to upload an email list and preview invitations, plug into 100+ panel providers directly, or tailor survey links for clients to manage the survey distribution directly. 

Popular survey distribution channels include:

Email Invitations: Send surveys to existing clients/contacts or a purchased list. This allows for personalized outreach and reminders. 

Website or landing page: You can embed your survey in your website, blog, or a dedicated landing page. This method is useful for those with an established online presence who want to engage website visitors. 

Social media: Online surveys are easily shared via social media channels, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more. Consider using relevant hashtags and encourage sharing for a wider reach. 

Online communities and forums: These can be a great way to target your audience where they are most active. Make sure any posts follow community guidelines, and when in doubt, check with the moderators or admins for permission. 

Survey panels: Survey panel providers maintain a wide audience of respondents and can quickly deliver your survey to a targeted list based on your criteria. You can work with a panel provider directly to distribute your survey or with a company like IntelliSurvey to use a blended sample approach for field management that taps into multiple providers simultaneously. 

Partner organizations: By partnering with organizations, businesses, or influencers in a specific niche, you can leverage their network to promote your survey and reach a wider audience. 

QR codes: QR codes make it easy to distribute your survey using physical materials such as flyers, posters, or product packaging. 

Direct communication: Computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI), door-to-door tablet surveys, event tables, and other 1:1 methods can be used to ensure you reach the exact people you are trying to target. 

Creating a Survey Distribution Timeline

Creating a distribution timeline for your online survey is essential to plan and execute the study effectively. A thoughtfully planned timeline ensures you have enough time allocated for each part of the survey process. 

Survey duration: Decide how long you want to keep the survey open for data collection. This depends on factors such as the complexity of the survey, your target audience, distribution channels, and the number of responses you need. If your survey is open for an extended period, consider breaking the data collection into smaller intervals, such as weekly or monthly, to help monitor progress. 

Survey start date: Choose the specific date you want to launch your survey. You’ll want to ensure this date aligns with your overall research plan, with consideration for any external campaigns you need to coordinate, holidays or culturally significant events, and other timing factors.  

Survey close date: Also known as the survey end date, this is a predetermined point when you close the survey to new responses. This may be based on the number of responses or a set date in your calendar. 

Communication touchpoints: Touchpoints with respondents include pre-survey notifications, survey invitations, survey reminders, and post-survey communications. It is important to map these out so they are factored into your overall distribution timeline, especially if you are trying to maximize reach by avoiding holidays or busy periods where people may be less inclined to invest time in a survey.  

Incentive distribution: Survey incentives are a great way to increase survey participation and engagement. If you are including incentives for your survey, plan ahead so you can promptly deliver them to your respondents either when they have completed the survey or after the survey has closed. 

Preparing Your Survey Distribution Materials

Survey introduction: Write a clear, compelling message that appears at the beginning of your survey that explains the purpose of the study, why the respondent’s input is valuable, any incentives for participation, and how data will be processed, including confidentiality or anonymity, if applicable. 

Survey invitation: When possible, your salutation should be personalized and address the recipient by name. Begin with a brief introduction to the survey and why you are conducting it. Highlight how the respondent’s input will make a difference, and be sure to include the duration and time commitment expected of them. If applicable, mention incentives to encourage participation. Make sure to include the survey link, the deadline, and contact information if they have any questions or concerns related to the survey and any compliance or regulatory requirements, if applicable. 

Design elements: Make sure all survey touchpoints have a consistent design. When choosing design elements such as fonts, colors, and logos, consider how they will look on different devices and platforms.

Channel-specific materials: Each distribution channel you use may have specific criteria to meet, such as size requirements for email templates, social media banners, website landing page images, etc.

Survey link: Most survey platforms, including IntelliSurvey, will generate a unique survey link that can be customized to your needs. To avoid inadvertently introducing response bias, we recommend you avoid using identifying information in the URL, such as a company or sponsor name.

QR code (if applicable): If you plan to promote your survey offline, create a QR code that links directly to your survey. People can then scan the code with their mobile device to access the survey. 

Privacy and consent information: Any survey that collects personally identifiable information (PII) should explain how this data will be processed. If required, include a consent statement as well. 

Translations (if needed): If you’re targeting a multilingual audience, prepare translated versions of your materials to ensure your entire audience can participate in the survey. 

Survey closing message: Your survey closing message should thank respondents for their participation, share how the results will be used, and, if applicable, provide information on how they will receive any survey incentive.

Tracking and analytics: As part of your material preparation, be sure to set up any tracking mechanisms, such as UTM parameters or tracking pixels, to monitor the performance of your survey distribution and measure the success of each channel. 

Testing the Survey and Related Items

Test the survey: Verify your survey links and question logic are working properly to ensure respondents have a smooth experience and do not run into roadblocks while taking the survey. A small-scale soft launch is highly recommended to help identify issues before the instrument is rolled out to the full audience. 

Test other elements: If you have personalization tags, QR codes, UTMs, or other elements that impact the distribution process outside of the survey itself, be sure to test them before going live and confirm they are working as expected. There’s nothing worse than printing thousands of signs only to find out the QR code doesn’t work after all!

In the Field: Distributing Your Survey & Collecting Responses

Once you have completed your preparation, it’s time to move the survey into field and begin collecting responses. 

Send your survey invitations: If you are using survey invitations, now is the time to hit send. For large lists, you may wish to send these in waves to avoid getting flagged as spam by your email system. 

Monitor responses: Once your survey is live, be sure to keep track of progress and response rates using your survey tool’s reporting and analytics features. If response rates are low, consider sending reminders to encourage participation. If you’re using a panel, a blended sample approach can help you reach your quotas more efficiently.

Adjust quotas as needed: Depending on the complexity of your quotas and research goals, you might find it necessary to adjust quotas as you’re fielding.  This can be especially true for tracking and brand studies with multiple layers of quotas and categories. Using the IntelliSurvey platform, you can receive automated reports to track and adjust quotas quickly, even through your mobile device.

Track and monitor quality: Bad data and bad actors are a big threat to market research. As you field your survey, you must diligently monitor the live results by looking for patterns of incomplete or inconsistent responses. Implementing data validation and error-checking mechanisms into your survey is important to reduce data quality issues. And don’t forget about data cleansing - at IntelliSurvey, we use a mix of our proprietary CheatSweep™ algorithm combined with manual oversight to ensure your data is as accurate as possible. 

Address technical issues as they arise: Keep an eye on your inbox or other support channels you’ve set up for survey participants. If they report an issue, be sure to address it as quickly as possible to avoid impacting other respondents. 

Maintain data privacy and security: If your survey collected PII, ensure the data is handled securely and in compliance with relevant data privacy regulations. 

Close the survey: Once you have reached your desired number of responses or the pre-planned end date, close the survey.

Post-Survey Administration

Once your survey is closed, there are a few final field management steps to complete. 

Data analysis and reporting: Your Data Analyst can now retrieve the final dataset and begin to identify key insights delivered through the study. This might be done by importing the data into 3rd party software or, with IntelliSurvey, it’s possible to complete most of the analysis directly through the data collection platform.

Thank and follow up with respondents: Show your appreciation by sending a thank you to respondents, if that option is available, and, if applicable, deliver their incentive. Once the survey results or final report are available, consider sharing that, too. 

Documentation: Clearly document the process and any issues that arose for future reference.

Feedback and continuous improvement: To improve the field management of your next survey, discuss key learnings with your team and follow up with any strategy adjustments or process improvements that may be necessary. 

Improve Your Field Management With IntelliSurvey

Effective survey field management is an essential part of data collection, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of your research. IntelliSurvey’s market research services are designed to help you maximize the quality of your data, minimize errors, and achieve meaningful results from your surveys. From survey programming to field management and even through analysis, we are happy to step in as your research partner. Please contact us for more information on how we can help you achieve excellent results for your next study. 

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