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Surveys: The Past, Present & Future


People have been conducting surveys for centuries. Literally - dating back as far as ancient Egypt, rulers thought it would be a smart idea to obtain data about their inhabitants for taxation purposes. Surveys have changed a great deal since that time, but the essence of surveys has remained the same. You ask people questions, record the answers, and interpret the results. Even back then, the fundamental quality of research and surveying was no different. Here we are going to take a closer look at the evolution of the survey; looking briefly into the past, where we stand today, and what is expected to happen in the future. (Make sure to see the infographic we created at the end!)

In the past, face-to-face surveys were the first method of data collection, simply because in-person interactions were the only way to deploy surveys while controlling the quality of responses. The census is considered to be one of the original forms of surveys, the first one conducted in 1790. As the mail system came to fruition, mail surveys became cheaper and easier to administer than face-to-face. The first recorded mail survey was conducted in England in 1839. There are many advantages of mail surveys, such as the ability to use graphs or pictures in question types, and high data quality. However the main disadvantage of mail surveys is the lack of control and lower response rates.

This was combated with the advancement of telephone surveys. Back in the day, when people had landline telephones (crazy, we know) telephone surveys were used because they provided fast results in real-time. Although more expensive to conduct than the alternatives, there is more accountability and adaptability as the person reads the survey over the phone. In 1986, 92% of all US households had a landline phone. This was great at the time, but is no longer an effective surveying method. Telephone surveys had a good run, but the emergence of the internet made them obsolete.

Today, everything revolves around the internet. Online surveys quickly became the preferred research method and proved to be an essential tool in data collection. Today we can collect data from everyone and everything. Employees, prospects, customers, and the rest of the general population all contain valuable information in a different way. With this overload of data, segmentation arose out of pure necessity. A panel (or community) is another popular method of obtaining business information where people can take surveys and gain rewards.

Presently, mobile surveys have been established and are a popular method of collecting surveys on-the-go. As smartphones become more widespread and adoption rates increase, desktop computer use is on the decline. Researchers are realizing that in order to record quality real-time data, you must reach people where they are - on their smartphones. This also applies to social media sharing. The reach of your survey can increase tenfold by utilizing the correct social media sites.

The future of surveys lends itself to the manta "less is more." With new technologies like iBeacon and Passive Data collection, marketers are getting up close and personal with customers and watching their every move. Of course, a lack of privacy is a big issue here; we walk a fine line. But within this untapped information lies great potential. Wearable technology like smartwatches and fitbit essentially allow people to gather information without doing anything, and that is exactly where the future lies. Remember, work smarter not harder!

Please include attribution to blog.surveyanaytics.com with this graphic.

Evolution of the Survey


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