Research has proven that incentives increase survey responses1. However, enticing a person to complete a survey with an incentive means you can be sure to get different answers. Whether you choose to incentivise your survey or not, data quality needs to be at the centre of this decision.

“As a researcher I am always concerned about getting enough responses to make my projects statistically accurate. While a 100 percent response is not absolutely necessary, two percent is not statistically useful,” says Chris Bischoff, Research Analyst at Reputation Matters.

Research results impact on decision making for a business and ultimately affect people, so you would obviously want to base these decisions on good quality data and statistically accurate research results, explains Bischoff.

Using their reputation measurement tool, the Repudometer®, Reputation Matters measures the perceptions that stakeholders have about an organisation, be it a JSE listed company, major product retailer, association or institution. These perceptions make up a company’s reputation. “Give a respondent an incentive and it may influence their perceptions and the feedback they provide, leading to data bias,” says Bischoff.

Consider some of the factors that contribute to an increased response rate. Think for a moment, why would you answer a survey?

Firstly, people will answer a survey because they think it is important to them. Their input is valuable to the business being researched and will lead to improvement in some way that will also benefit them2.

Secondly, people need to have certainty that data will be maintained properly2. If someone would like to remain anonymous you need to assure them upfront that every answer that they provide will be confidential, and therefore there is absolutely no risk involved in participating. “When conducting reputation research, a common stakeholder group that we usually reach out to are employees. By ensuring that their answers are confidential, we can encourage them to provide their open and honest feedback about their workplace, giving us accurate data to analyse,” says Bischoff.

Lastly, answering a survey should not be a complete time burden for a potential respondent. “Once again be upfront with the respondent, explain that the survey will only take ten minutes of their time and make sure that they only have to spend ten minutes completing it. If your survey then takes 20 minutes to complete, you are likely to have lost their interest as well as trust for any future surveys,” explains Bischoff. When designing a survey carefully consider the average time a respondent will need to provide meaningful feedback without losing interest.

When a respondent spends time on a survey to give their honest feedback it will contribute to good data quality3. “If they are going to rush through the survey to get the prize, an incentive is not the way to go to encourage responses,” says Bischoff.

“We always highly recommend clients not to incentivise a survey, the value for the participant lies in the outcomes of a possible change that will benefit them after the survey is complete and recommendations implemented.

When embarking on a research study, communication therefore plays an important role.  Make sure that you inform your target population about the survey, the purpose behind it, and importantly, how it may lead to improving something and the possible benefit to them. This might just be enough to encourage them to answer the survey.”

For more information about Reputation Matters and their research tools, visit their website or contact them at

1 James S. Cole, Shimon A. Sarraf and Xiaolin Wang (2015). Does use of survey incentives degrade data quality?

 Paper presented at the Association for Institutional Research Annual Forum

2Cooperative Institutional Research Program (2015). Encouraging participation in CIRP surveys.

3National Business Research Institute (2018). Survey Incentives: response rate and data quality.