United_States_one_dollar_bill,_obverseWe’ve probably all received some type of payment for participating in research before, whether it was for completing a survey, participating in a focus group or online community, or other form of research.

But should we be paying people for their participation?  While it would be nice if people would be intrinsically motivated to take surveys, the fact is people are busy, and while your survey is very important to you, it may not be to them.

Among the reasons to include an incentive:

  • To say thanks.  Participating takes times and whether the participant is a current customer or not, showing appreciation for their time is a nice gesture.
  • Boost response.  How many people do you need to invite to get one willing participant? Offering an incentive can reduce this number.  Sure, sometimes you could just send out even more research invitations, but many times you’re going to be limited.
  • Boost quality.  In research talk, this means reducing our non-response bias.  In other words, if only 1% of people take your survey, are those 1% different from the 99% who didn’t?  And if so, are the results really representative of your entire audience?  The higher response rate you get, the more confidently you can say your results aren’t suffering from this type of bias.Corona regularly tests incentives and their impact on response rates and data quality.  On more than one occasion we’ve not only seen a boost in overall response, but a boost in the very type of respondent we were hoping to reach most, including tough audiences like customers/donors who had left our client, unhappy customers, and so on.  The reason we conducted those surveys was to find out how our clients could improve, and an incentive provided the boost those audiences needed to be willing to give their feedback.
  • Lower cost.  While this may seem contradictory, if including an incentive increases willingness to participate enough, then sampling and recruiting may become easier and therefore less expensive.

So, what type of paid incentive is best?  The answer is, “it depends.”  The incentive should be tailored to the audience and what’s being asked of them.  The incentive should have broad appeal so as not to inadvertently bias the results due to one group being significantly more attracted to the incentive than another group.

What incentives have you tried? Are there ones you found particularly effective in boosting response?