Thoughts on Mobile Surveys from a Mobile Researcher

So far this year, I’ve worked from half a dozen US cities, as well as Mexico, Thailand, China, and, currently, the Dominican Republic.  As a location-independent researcher, I’m delighted by the ways technology allows me to combine work and travel.  I can invoice my clients from my phone anywhere I am using (and receive checks via, log into a client’s server using a remote desktop connection, and have face to face meetings on skype or google hangout.

It’s been exciting to watch how mobile technology is not only enhancing my life but also adding a new chapter to survey methodology.  I recently read that more people own mobile phones than toothbrushes, which of course means that surveys that can be taken on mobile phones are exploding. Mobile surveys run the gamut from text messages to standard web surveys optimized for mobile devices to apps that can be installed on a phone or tablet.

There are plenty of advantages to mobile surveys: not only is penetration of cellphones high around the world, but many people look to their phones as a way to entertain themselves or pass the time. A survey that might be seen as annoying if I’m expected to interrupt my workday (or my dinner!) to complete it is almost welcome if I’m waiting around for my plane to take off.

Some Considerations for Mobile Surveys:

Who is your audience? Granted, some people are a lot more comfortable with mobile phone technology than others.  Surveying tech professionals? Go for it. Doing research for AARP? Maybe consider another mode.

KISS (Keep it short and simple). Someone is taking your survey on the bus, in line at the post office, or (hopefully not) while driving. This is not the place for complex grids, asking the same question three different ways, or really any survey longer than 10 questions.

Limit open ends—but think about what else you can do. You won’t get very verbose responses to open ended questions—but what about asking people to snap a picture or include a video as part of their response?

Keep in mind that this is a novel methodology. This can work in your favor when it comes to response rate (people love to play with new toys), but some methodologists are still concerned about coverage bias (not EVERYONE has an iPhone, although it may seem like that sometimes). I’d always advise talking to a research professional to decide if a mobile survey fits your needs—find me on skype (Jessica.broome) and we’ll talk from wherever I am!

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Founder of Southpaw Insights