Is it Ethical to Give Incentives for Online Surveys?

You’ve probably seen a lot of these ads for “Earning money taking surveys” and that’s got you wondering if giving incentives for online surveys is ethical. We have previously discussed if you Should You Give Incentives for Surveys and the research came back saying that incentives absolutely work. But some of our readers also wonder if giving incentives is ethical.

Incentives for Online Surveys

Is it Ethical to Give Incentives for Online Surveys?When you consider the very low amounts that are often paid as incentives for online surveys, you realize that no one is going to get rich completing surveys and at the same time, it’s not uncommon to offer larger incentives for online surveys to some very targeted and specific respondents such as doctors or lawyers who are very difficult to vet as respondents and who do not take the time to respond to online surveys.

So where is the balance and what’s the right amount of an incentive to give that increases the number (and quality) of the respondent without skewing the data?

In a recent article by Austin Research they make the distinction between “incentive” as the reason for completing the survey, versus a reward as a thank-you gesture for finishing a survey. I really like that because it distinguishes between the extrinsic financial value of the incentive and the intrinsic acknowledgment of taking the time to complete a survey. There is a difference — at least in the mind of the respondent.

You see, the actual value of the incentive or reward doesn’t significantly increase the number of quality of the responses — it’s actually what’s offered and the way in which it’s offered that makes a difference in the mind of the respondent — and hence, your results.

3 Non-Financial Incentives that Respondents LOVE

Here’s the good news. You don’t need to offer financial incentives for online surveys to your respondents.

  1. Some respondents (especially B2B or industrial respondents) may prefer seeing the results of your research to a financial reward.
  2. Another option is to offer respondents access to special events or training
  3. You can also offer respondents access to downloadable content, books or reports that they can use to run their businesses better.

The bottom line is to look at the incentive question from the perspective of the respondent and ask yourself; what will make them feel special and valued?  If you’re not sure — why not just ask them? Reach out using email or a phone call and simply tell that you’re doing some research and that you were wondering what would really be of value to them as a thank-you gift.