Got an opinion on something? On everything? There are plenty of businesses that want to know what you think about anything from laundry detergent to television programs. Many are even willing to pay you for your time, if you participate in online market research surveys. But with hundreds of market research firms vying for your opinions, it can be difficult to distinguish the legitimate operators from scammers. Here’s our opinion on how to safely survey the surveyors.
Don’t quit your day job
Typically, surveys reward your participation in one of three ways: cash, points that can be redeemed for gift cards, or sweepstakes entries. Veteran survey panelist Mark Waldee of Booneville, Ark., says in the last year he’s seen survey companies cut payouts by 50%. He calculates most now pay the equivalent of $1.66 an hour, if they pay at all. Not only that, but competition to get accepted into more popular panels is stiff, because so many others share similar demographics.
Still, by completing up to 20 surveys a week, Waldee averages about $2,000 a year and earned enough Amazon gift cards to buy a new desktop computer. “I like telling people what I think and I like influencing a product,” he says. “But don’t get in it for the money.”
Know what you are getting into
Applying to participate in an online survey requires you to give up some personal information: name, address, birth date, race and income level, for example. Questions are strictly for sorting purposes, but if they make you queasy, you might not make the ideal panelist. Once accepted, you may receive anywhere from one to 10 surveys a week. Consider creating a special email account.
Online market research companies count on you to give thoughtful, honest answers so they can turn over quality data to their clients. Systems are tracking your response patterns, how long it takes you to respond to questions and even use “trap” questions to see if you are paying attention. Try to deceive the system, and chances are you’ll get booted to the curb.
Research the researchers
Use websites such as SurveyPolice.com, where survey takers give feedback on research panels. Or conduct a web search for the name of the company and the word “scam” to see if you get any results.
Watch for red flags
Even online market research firms can be “spoofed.” Be suspicious if you receive an unsolicited email asking you to participate in a survey by “clicking on this link.” No reputable market research panel will ask you to pay anything or turn over credit card information. Asking for a name, address or birth date is okay; asking for a social security number or bank account is not.
Once you enter a site, look for a cohesive experience. Do you sign up and then get redirected to a third party site that tries to sell you something? Avoid any company that promises to make you rich if you just complete a few surveys. If you do encounter unethical behavior, report it to ftc.gov using the online form or call 800-FTC-HELP.
Those we chatted with report online surveys can be fun and educational. And, yes, on occasion you may have a say in a final product. Or maybe not. Long Beach, Calif., survey taker Melody Chalaban was asked her opinion about a magazine cover and a month later saw the results at a store. “It was totally different from what I suggested, so I didn’t buy it,” she says, laughing.
Give it a try
Ready to test the survey waters? Here are a few we like…