SurveyMonkey CEO answers a multiple-choice survey

Cloud-based online survey company SurveyMonkey has over 15 million users for its freemium service. Its chief executive Dave Goldberg is married to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg so between them they have probably hoovered up data on everybody on the planet. Anonymised data, obviously.

So we decided to intrude on his headspace a little.  

So, Mr. Goldberg, how annoying do you think bad surveys are?

A.    Mildly Annoying

B.    Very Annoying

C.     A complete waste of everyone’s time

“Ha ha. I agree that surveys can be annoying, but there’s a science to conducting surveys well. We try to give people hints and tips through our website and our support staff. We created a question bank of 2,000 queries that you can put to you your sample audience,” says Goldberg. “The optimum length for a survey is around 12 minutes. Try not to go beyond that length.”

Which type of people absolutely love surveys and will welcome them – the longer the better?

A.    People with nothing else to do

B.    Lonely souls who want someone to ‘talk’ to

C.     People whose answers might not be all that useful

“It’s true that CEOs don’t always have time to answer surveys,” says Goldberg. This, he admits, does often render the information gleaned by surveys rather meaningless. Many of the people who answer questionnaires aren’t really in control of a budget of $2bn and responsibility for 1000-1,999 employees. If they were, they wouldn’t be filling out a lengthy multiple-choice quiz in the forlorn hope of winning a free iPad. We dare say that most CEOs could afford to pay for their own iPads and iWatches – even if they do put them on expenses.

However, as Goldberg points out, it’s not his fault that people don’t use the tools at their disposal to their fullest potential. The only limitation, when using SurveyMonkey, is your creativity. And that creativity falls short in many people’s cases.

Rank the following news items:

A.    Salesforce is now integrated with SurveyMonkey

B.    SurveyMonkey has appointed a UK managing director, Mansoor Malik, as this is its biggest market outside the US

C.     Mansoor Malik is now on a recruitment drive

“Our most successful overseas territory is the UK and we’re hiring new people to grow the UK customer base,” says Goldberg, whose company has started working with Virgin Galactic, IKEA and Net-a-Porter in the UK.

SurveyMonkey’s goal is to extend the boundaries of online surveys and to help its 15 million current customers to start using additional services beyond the online platform, namely its Enterprise Audience tools.

Tabloid newspaper The Sun is a customer – which raises an interesting anomaly. Surely if anyone knows how to communicate with audiences, it’s the publisher of one of the world’s most popular newspapers. If they’re having problems communicating with their audience, what about the rest of us?

This highlights one of the biggest challenges of the digital age. Why, when there are so many channels of communication with people, is it so hard to make connections?

Let’s phrase that as a SurveyMonkey Text A/B option-type question.

Which of the two statements below would you say it the more true?

A.    In the digital age, the bar has been raised high as everyone has the best weapons. Sadly, most people don’t deploy these very effectively and end up using a scattergun approach that hits more innocent people than the intended targets.

B.    There’s nothing wrong with the tools or the training. Technology is intuitive. The final piece that’s missing is imagination. Few people put enough thought into how they create the right effect with their words.

“I think I would agree with that second statement,” says Goldberg. “A lot of what people do with surveys has to change. They started out as questionnaires. Market researchers conducted these door to door in an age when people had more time. They were super-long because if you did find someone who agreed to give an opinion, you wanted to capitalise on it. It’s hard to get people to do that now because they don’t have time.”

In the style of one of SurveyMonkey’s Single Text Box style questions, please explain why the users of online surveys might be letting themselves down:

“The big mistake was to just put the old system online without trying to change the process,” says Goldberg. You need to be more creative with the format of the questions, he adds, alluding perhaps to SurveyMonkey’s different quizzing styles, which can be mixed and matched.

In the UK, which is on the brink of an election, political commentators often mis-judge the mood of the public. While the condescendii say one thing, the polls tell a completely different story. Is this because:

A. They (The Westminster Village set) are massively out of touch with the public

B. The British public says one thing, but votes quite differently

C. The pollsters are rubbish

D. The questionnaires need to be highly attuned to the complex psychology involved in revealing one’s voting intentions.

‘D’ is the answer, according to Goldberg. “The causes for misjudgment can come from various reasons. One reason, as you point out, is the questions could be wrong. Another reason could be you're not asking enough people or you're not asking the right people. Or, you're asking at the wrong time.”

Ultimately, the system needs an overhaul, he argues:

“The traditional polling method is a cumbersome process tied to asking historical questions. Today's data doesn't move as fast as consumers or the businesses who need them.”

So finally, do you have any tips for creating surveys that can skillfully tease out the real truth about people’s voting intentions?

“Asking directly is the best gauge of people's voting intention. What you really need to tease out is the likelihood to turn out and vote,” says Goldberg.

Thanks to Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey. We promise we will use this information responsibly.


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Nick Booth

Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.

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