Survey research is fast, nearly free, and broadly accessible. But surveys are not a cure-all for community building. Not even close.
Experienced community builders never directly ask members questions like what they want or what their community platform should be. That’s because we know the responses will only mislead us. When asking for anyone to self-report what they want or desire, we are likely to receive unreliable data.
However, community surveys are an excellent fit for 4 crucial community goals:
- Establishing demographics and benchmarks of community health
- Rapidly inspiring new content and program ideas
- Ranking top member goals and discussion topics
- Gathering a list of people who want to get more involved
One survey can serve all of these needs or you may focus on only one of these goals. Once you know what your goals for survey research are, you can break those goals down into questions to gain the insights you need.
Survey Goal 1: Establish Demographic and Health Benchmarks
If you do not yet understand the common identities shared by your community members, a survey can help you clarify and focus your efforts. Demographics give you at least a surface-level understanding of potential member identities. Demographic information can tell you where you may be falling short (for example, in terms of gender or age representation).
In addition, you may want to establish community health benchmarks. For instance, you can ask a Net Promoter Score (NPS) question and ask for qualitative insights about why members give the score they do. Those qualitative insights allow you to immediately address any low-hanging fruit.
Survey Goal 2: Inspire new content and program ideas
When members make no progress, they disengage. Surveys are great tools for understanding the progress your members want to make. Notice that is different from trying to understand what your members want. They may not know they want a specific program unless you can connect it to the progress it can help them make. When you understand their deeper desires, you can then design programs that naturally sparking engagement.
Ask this question as a multiple-select question in your survey software. Start by creating a list of potential goals that members may share (e.g. getting feedback, learning a specific skill), and include an open option for a write-in.
With the answers to this question, you can develop a list of shared challenges (which you can also rank, see Survey Goal 3). When you know challenges and have a clear community purpose and values, program creation becomes a natural process rather than forced and rigid.
Survey Goal 3: Rank Top Goals & Topics
Asking people to rank their goals or topics they would like to discuss can encourage them to be more thoughtful about their responses. So while you might have a long list of all the goals that members want to achieve together based on the questions for Survey Goal 2, you may not know how strongly members prioritize each of those goals.
Therefore, it is a good idea to ask members to rank their goals and challenges, whom they want to meet, and the topics they most want to discuss. Equipped with this information, you will have a sense of the urgency of each goal as well as an idea of urgent topics for discussion (this information often helps you decide how to develop channels, subgroups, event themes, or
Survey Goal 4: Gather a List of People to Get More Involved
Surveys are not the end goal. Relationships are.
Per the advice of Erika Hall, user researcher and author of Just Enough Research (shout out to Sarah Judd Welch for bringing this book into my life!), I recommend that community builders use surveys as screeners for further discussion or interviews.
Always end the survey by asking if people would be willing to talk further about their answers, and then ask for their email or other contact information.
You will likely want to interview a handful of people who did not complete the survey as well, but this initial group will give you a good sample of those who are committed enough to respond to your survey. And in a community, commitment is key.
If you ever feel overwhelmed when creating your survey, always come back to this: Focus. Focus ruthlessly.