The era of internet connectivity has provided sociologists and marketers with a truly invaluable resource – easy access to massive amounts of people. The trick, however, for tapping into this resource for sociological purposes (which most often rely on surveys) lies in the ability to motivate netizens to participate.
Of late, I have noticed an increase in survey taking on Facebook. Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York times recently asked, “What country will be the world’s most powerful in 2100?” for an article on the rise of India. It seems as though he has gotten a decent number of responses (though I would have thought there would have been more). This survey format – as a single question – appears with a bar graph. Each bar will increase with each response, giving the Facebook user a feeling that their individual response will have some sort of tangible effect on the outcome. In a sense, this is a sensation of empowerment in exchange for data.
By using Facebook, Kristof is also depending on the innate standard of participation that is created by the structure of social media itself – a force similar to gravity in its dependence on mass, a type of peer-pressure, an environmentally induced desire to participate in one’s friends’ activities.
Something I think that will always be more effective, however, is an extension or addition of the old trick used by every university psychology department – money, food, a prize, or a chance to win money or a prize. By turning a survey into a lottery ticket, any organization can easily up the number of participants in their studies online – especially when administering said technique through social networks with consistently active and obsessive users, like Twitter.
While most governments and government organizations tend to be relatively slow on the uptake in terms of taking advantage of crowd-sourcing and social media – the Dutch are a true exception. comScore Inc. (an organization that assesses digital participation and marketing, see more here) recently gave the Netherlands first place in a global assessment of social media penetration (for Twitter and LinkedIn). While the survey was not assessing governments, it is clear that the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands represents its people even in this trend. I would have to add to comScore Inc.’s conclusion that the Dutch also have a great degree of skill at motivating other people to participate in their social networks and fill out their surveys.
The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States has a twitter account (@DutchEmbassyDC) and about a month or so ago they had asked their followers to fill out a quick survey to provide feedback about their website design and have a chance to win a Dutch designer mug. Spending a lot of time paying attention to diplomatic missions in Washington, I figured I’d take the five minutes to fill out the survey even though, with over 1200 followers, I knew that the chances of winning were slim. I still felt that, somehow, such a small chance was worth the five minutes of my free time. After all, I was in front of the computer anyways.
I’m glad I filled out the survey because in the end, I actually got a mug!
And now the Dutch have got me hooked and if I ever see another survey with a chance to win a prise that shows up in my Twitter feed – I will certainly take the five minutes to fill it out. Even the worst chances of winning at that game makes me want to participate.
Organizations that want to become more self-aware or active could learn a lot from the Dutch example of taking advantage of social media to penetrate into online communities and then employing games to increase participation.