FEATURE11 August 2014

Mobile expands DIY data market

Following SurveyMonkey’s acquisition of Fluidware last week, we talk to CEO Dave Goldberg about survey technology, the rise of mobile, good and bad data and the role of DIY research for business.


With the acquisition of Fluidware adding to your offering, what are the most significant technological advances impacting online surveys currently?

A few of the most important would be the move to mobile, offline data collection, and continuing advances in design and analytics. Our recent move into mobile and the fact that Fluidware has these attributes is what makes us so excited about this acquisition. For example, offline data collection is huge – now, customers can complete surveys from truly any location, regardless of connectivity. In a general sense, mobile is impacting every industry and online surveys are not exempt. Mobile is also key to adoption in the emerging markets where it will leapfrog over the PC.  People expect their phone to be able to replicate – or even exceed – the PC experience.

You’ve also moved into mobile apps; what are the differences in research on this medium and how does it impact on the way in which people respond?

We’ve seen a 14x increase in our mobile traffic over the past three years and this trend impacts research on two fronts. The first one you mentioned – the way people respond. You have to remember that people are taking surveys on the go. They have less time to respond and they may face bandwidth issues. This affects the design of a mobile survey. You have to make your survey short. You should avoid using matrix questions. Even open-ended questions are troublesome. People can’t type that well on a mobile phone and autocorrect might turn real answers into unusable data. There are definitely mobile survey best practices that you should follow. 

The second impact that mobile has on research is the ability to write, monitor and deploy surveys. We specifically designed our mobile app so that it is powerful enough to create surveys in the field because customers didn’t want to wait to get back to their desks and write their surveys.  They wanted to capture the questions and deploy immediately; they also wanted to monitor results from any location. The app untethers them from their desk while allowing them to stay on top of and react to their data.

Does it open up options for reaching different consumer sets? Are there any limitations?

We discussed some of the limitations in the last question, but, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Mobile is really exciting for surveys because it, by nature, expands the market in so many ways – you can access more people, on more platforms, more frequently. We’re no longer restricted to consumers at home, in front of a computer. We can also reach a consumer set that we may not have in the past: those who may not have ever owned a computer and don’t plan to, and rely on their smartphones – like consumers in the emerging markets.

DIY research is fast and low-cost but the criticism is that it is less robust and analytical – how would you counter that?

If you’ve watched SurveyMonkey for the past few years, it’s no secret that we’ve been constantly advancing our technologies and building out our analytical capabilities – both organically, and through acquisitions like the one we’ve just announced. We’ve developed technology around dynamic online surveys, and they offer powerful analytics that allow users to filter, compare and analyse results in real time. 

There’s a lot of bad data out there. But, it’s not just bad DIY data. More and more bad data is coming out of what is considered to be the ‘gold’ standards of research. Look at the bad calls in the 2012 US presidential race or, most recently, Eric Cantor’s Virginia primary loss.

There’s no question that more and more research is going to be conducted online. The focus should be on understanding what effects this will have on traditional research methods. That’s why we’ve invested in a survey research department headed by former Pew researcher and head of polling for the Washington Post, Jonathan Cohen.  He and his team are focused on setting data quality standards and practices while helping our technical team build the right technologies and tools.

There is a feeling that business is moving at a faster and faster pace but what are the limitations on speed of turnaround and is there a risk that in the desire for haste, marketing directors follow results that could actually take them in the wrong direction?

The issue is not the pace of business; that’s reality, and it’s not going to slow down. The real issue is the speed and amount of data that we currently have access to is truly overwhelming. Marketers and business people don’t know which metric to watch. There are so many that it’s easy to go in the wrong direction. Which data point really matters? The trick is to figure out what metric moves your business and ruthlessly monitor it.

Do you think that DIY research can deliver genuine insight or is its role purely to offer quick responses?

SurveyMonkey absolutely delivers genuine insight.  Its speed is a complimentary perk that comes along with it. We pride ourselves on being able to deliver simple, powerful and centralised solutions that make it easy for organisations to collect, manage and review data to help them better understand their target markets. I think the success we, as a company, have enjoyed is strong evidence that customers are getting true insight and value from our platform.