In a time of declining response rates to surveys, researchers have become particularly sensitive to the many forms of advocacy that masquerade as research. As if we don't have a hard enough time getting people to pick up the phone or respond to online or mobile surveys, organizations muddy the water with push polls or sales.
Just last month, I opened my mail to find a "fake" survey in from a D.C. radio station (image below). Apparently this ploy is all the rage with some commercial radio stations. The primary, if not exclusive purpose, of this postcard is to increase sampling and drive traffic to the station.
One might argue that with the rollout of PPM, subscribers no longer have detailed "out of home" listening location information, so these "surveys" can supplement that audience data. However it seems pretty weak as an actual survey instrument. How do people define local? What is considered "breaking news?" If the station is looking to target potential crossover news and information audience, wouldn't Scarborough get them more granular and useful data?
The most striking aspect of this pseudo-survey is how it addresses some of the apparent motivators of PPM panelists: games and money. After reviewing the recent qualitative research by Broadcast Architecture on those motivators, and the follow-up conversations among radio researchers and execs posted on Mark Ramsey's blog, I wondered what the subsequent station reaction might be. Just a few of the troubling consequences most likely to occur from an influx of these types of surveys would be an undermining of legitimate research and diminishing willingness to cooperate when response rates are already in decline. Thumbs down!
Lori Kaplan is the Director of Audience Insight & Research. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.