The Smartphone’s Dramatic Impact on Survey Research

With the rapidly increasing usage of smartphones and the broad-band and Wi-Fi internet capabilities, it has become impossible to ignore the impact of mobile devices on online market research. The mobile device is quickly becoming the most popular and widespread form of communication society has to offer. It has become clear that any online industry that doesn’t recognize this and evolve with mobile technology will be left behind!

The Rise of the Smartphone

Here are three main points that indicate the incredible rise of smartphones over the past six years:

1) Proliferation of the Mobile-Broadband Devices: According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile device usage has grown at an amazingly fast rate in the past 10 years, while land-line phone subscriptions have been declining since 2006. In fact, mobile-broad subscriptions have increased almost 5-fold since 2007. (Source: ITU Aggregate Data)

2) Stagnation of Desktop Devices: With 3 in 4 people now having access to the internet through their phone internet usage has become more and more mobile dominated. This trend became evident in 2010 when for the first time smartphone sales were higher than PCs. Since then smartphones have continued to rise in sales at a furious pace, while PCs have stagnated at a very low level of growth. (Source: Global Mobile Statistics)

3) Increased Capabilities of Smartphones: The smartphones’ boom in sales is directly linked with the increased speed and power found on these devices. Now that smartphones have the ability to satisfy most internet users’ needs, the percentage of internet pages viewed by mobile devices has begun to double yearly. These statistics are not seen by experts as a short term trend either. According to many professionals of the field, it is predicted that in 2015 mobile internet usage will overtake desktop internet usage worldwide! (Source: Global Mobile Statistics)

Why Smartphones Have Changed Online Research Forever

This undeniable upsurge in mobile technology has had an extreme impact on the internet habits of the public. Regardless, many online surveyors still believe that only targeting desktop devices, like laptops and computers, for their sample base is sufficient. Here are the two major reasons why this is not the case:

1) Response Rates through Emails: The increase in the internet capabilities of mobile phones has led to the widespread usage of mobile devices to check emails. From 2010 to 2012, the total amount of emails opened on mobile devices compared to desktop more than doubled, reaching an astounding 27%. Add to this statistic that 70% of cellular email checkers admitted that they immediately delete emails that don’t render well on a mobile device, and it becomes paramount to any online marketing or research tool to accommodate for this audience. (Source: Knotice)

2) Mobile Users are a Specific Demographic: Though the loss of mobile-broadband users in a sample may seem negligible, it will dramatically increase the bias of any survey targeting the general public. Consider the fact that the vast majority of smartphone users are young adults and business professionals. These distinct demographics will be unrepresented in the results of a study that ignores the need to cater to mobile internet users. Any research project that completely disregards significant demographic groups in their methodology discredits its own findings!

Being mobile compatible is paramount to the success and future of marketing professionals looking to conduct research. It is no longer valid to equate the internet to a desktop phenomenon as a significant and growing portion of society use smartphones as a primary way to access the internet, check their emails, and respond to surveys. If researchers want to conduct studies that will provide optimum response rates and avoid bias, they will now have to create surveys that cater to both the mobile phone user and desktop user.

Tips on Creating a Professional Online Survey

Many people will simply use the same format of a survey for both desktop and mobile respondents. Unfortunately, surveys made for desktop devices are not always compatible with smartphones. Following are five base rules that will allow you to create expert mobile surveys:

1) Less Open-Ended Questions: In most online surveys a healthy mix of closed and open-ended questions is the best way to collect data. This provides the researcher with both quantifiable data through closed-ended questions and rich exploratory information through open-ended questions. However, open-ended questions do not transfer well on mobile smartphones for two major reasons. First, some of these devices are difficult for respondents to type with, which will result in respondent fatigue for answers that require more than a couple sentences of explanation. Second, people using a mobile smartphones to fill out a survey will most likely be ‘on the go’ somewhere (riding the bus, on their lunch break, etc.). This means that your survey will probably not have their full attention. This makes open-ended questions which ask for in depth, unique responses and require a lot of critical thinking a poor choice. Instead, stay very straightforward with your questions and provide clear options for respondents to choose from. In other words, stick to well organized close-ended questions when creating a mobile survey.

2) Customize Questions to Mobile Capabilities: When creating an online survey for computers, it makes sense to provide links and images to make the respondent’s experience more interactive and fun. A researcher has to be wary about trying this tactic for mobile surveys. Mobile smartphones vary greatly in their capabilities and user settings. This makes it hard to tell if your links or pictures will work on every device. That is why keeping your survey simple and leaving out external resources is usually the best policy for mobile research. Otherwise, you should provide a testing page for the respondent to see if their device is compatible with all aspects of the survey before they begin.

3) Take into Account Different Screen Sizes: As mentioned earlier, most smartphone users will delete emails and exit surveys that do not fit well into their mobile device’s screen. This is not hard to believe, since an oversized survey will make navigating survey pages and reading survey questions and response options an absolute nightmare! With the knowledge that different brands of smartphones come in all sizes, it is incredibly important to ensure that you are using software that will automatically adjust your survey to fit the screen size it is being viewed on. Many survey software companies do not offer this feature. Fortunately, FluidSurveys includes in its account the FluidSurveys Mobilizer. This feature dynamically modifies a researcher’s survey template to automatically conform to any screen size, resolution and orientation.

4) Pretest Your Mobile Survey Separately: It cannot be stressed enough that an online survey transferred from a computer to a mobile smartphone could have many unforeseen problems! For example, light settings are usually lower on mobile smartphones to save batteries, which can lead to changes in colour contrast. In some cases, colours that are clearly different on a computer screen can blend together on a mobile device, making questions difficult to read. The easiest way to avoid problems like these is to pretest your survey on various mobile devices and make modifications to the survey based on the feedback.

5) Go Outside the Computer Comfort Zone: When altering a survey to accommodate mobile devices, most people do the bare minimum to make it compatible. Instead, make your mobile survey great by testing out the different options you have with the mobile question types. Remember, respondents will be using their fingers instead of a mouse to provide you with answers. This difference may seem irrelevant, but many questions made for a desktop can be annoying on a smartphone. That is why the FluidSurveys development team continues to create mobile specific questions, that make full use of the drag and drop style promoted in the touch screen world of tablets and iPhones. By embracing unique mobile device options, you should be able to bring your survey to the next level!

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