FEATURE14 June 2011

Free and easy

Features News

As Toluna launches its latest self-service survey tool, QuickSurveys, we speak to UK managing director Mark Simon about embracing DIY.

Why has Toluna decided to embrace the DIY approach?
When Google brought out AdWords, they made proper advertising available to everyone. But the market took a while to recognise that it was a viable form of advertising – in the beginning people thought that it was quite disruptive. By the same token, our tool being simple and easy to use and quick doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a proper research tool.

“It is a powerful tool but it’s not designed to cannibalise the research business as we know it. We’ve seen lots of research firms use it for work they wouldn’t have got done at all”

We’ve done lots of validation work using this tool on our panel. It plugs into a very active and robust community already, rather than just providing some technology to ask a few questions. And as a business we’re making sure we’re bringing on board people who will enable us to offer help in this market, because we want to be able to pass on that expertise and support. But also we believe that people are smart enough, given some education, to be able to conduct research effectively and to a very high standard themselves.

What type of support do you offer in questionnaire design?
There’s a lot of training in the form of tutorials, FAQs, top tips and white papers that we’ll be publishing to support the user. One side is trying to educate the curious, uninitiated user who hasn’t really asked questions before – that’s relatively straightforward – and the other side is trying to help people who are relatively sophisticated users not to overcomplicate matters a bit. We have teams to offer support when people need it, and also we’re going to be bringing to market a service that will allow people’s survey to be given the once-over – that’s coming up in the near future.

Who are you targeting as customers?
There are two markets really. One is companies for whom research might previously have been out of reach because of cost or speed – small businesses, charities, whatever it might be. The second side is research professionals, particularly in research firms but also in clients and advertising firms and so on, to do projects that they wouldn’t have been able to do before, because of timing or budget or resources. It is a powerful tool but it’s not designed to cannibalise the research business as we know it. We’ve seen lots of research firms use it for work they wouldn’t have got done at all. You can only do a certain amount of questions using our panel – it’s not designed to be super-complex because otherwise we wouldn’t be accessible to the uninitiated.

Do you worry about people spamming your panellists with poorly made surveys?
It’s a valid point, but I wouldn’t just lay that accusation at the uninitiated, to be honest. I’ve seen incredibly poorly written surveys from sources you’d really not expect – and who should know better.

With the relatively small number of questions you can ask with QuickSurveys, there are five or six golden rules. I’m not saying it’s going to turn you into a research expert, but it will educate and encourage users to use the tool in the right way.

QuickSurveys allows people to share surveys through social media channels rather than with your panel. Will we see Toluna incorporating more social media activity into its work?
For the last five years we’ve had a community approach that allows people to create their own content, polls, opinion threads, rate and follow each other and publish content. We’ve really given the panel members a seat at the table in that sense, and that manifested itself in a huge uptick in organic recruitment of members. We see that trend continuing.

We have a multi-channel approach to our panels – we have a social community aspect, we have river sampling, we’re using social networks. So we really understand that you’ve got to give the individual a chance to respond as and when they want to. If we want to be effective researchers and marketers, we’ve got to be where our audience is, and frankly that is in the social context these days.

Do you see a bright future for panels?
I do, but clearly the paradigms are changing. We’ve got to look at respecting the respondent whether they’re a panel member or not, giving them the ability to contribute, giving them enjoyable activities to do. We need to make sure we’re relevant, that’s incredibly important. The companies that embrace that will do really well, and the ones that don’t will struggle.