Probably not in the near future, but they can be a beneficial supplement to your current survey strategy.
Admit it, you are one of the 72% of smartphone owners who report checking their phone at least once an hour. With 9 in 10 adults owning a cellphone, text messaging (SMS) has become the communication norm for most of the U.S. population. Text messaging appears to be a useful way to contact survey respondents, particularly those who tend to have lower response rates with traditional survey methods, such as young adults.
But according to Gallup’s research, text messaging is not yet ready to replace traditional surveys. This mode of contact has legal limitations, yields lower response rates than telephone surveys and restricts question length. So don’t use it as your only means of contacting your audience, but do use it as a supplements.
How Text Message Surveys Work
Text message surveys can be administered in two different ways:
The first option is to text questions and answers back and forth, which works well because anyone with a cellphone can respond. But there are significant limitations. Questions are limited to 160 characters, including the question wording and response options. Messages that are longer than 160 characters are broken into segments. While some devices rebuild the messages so that they appear as one cohesive message, messages may not be received in the correct order.
The number of questions must also be kept to a minimum. Questions and responses are sent one at a time, and research finds that respondents tend to lose interest more quickly than with other modes of data collection.
The second option is to text respondents a link to a web survey they can complete from the browser on their phone. Although this option gives researchers greater flexibility with question wording, about 25% of the population does not own a smartphone and will be unable to launch a web survey, and those who do have a smartphone may have to use or pay for data to complete the survey.
Experiments Reveal the Pros and Cons of Text Message Surveys
Gallup conducted two experiments to test the effectiveness of text message surveys.
In the first experiment, they wanted to see how an SMS survey compares with a telephone survey in terms of response rates and substantive responses. There were 3 treatment groups: a traditional telephone survey administered by a live interviewer, a text message survey or a text message with a link to a web survey. Two questionnaire lengths were also tested: 5 questions and 12 questions.
Results – Response rates for the SMS-to-web surveys (12% for 5 questions and 11% for 12) and SMS-only surveys (12% for 5 questions and 13% for 12) were significantly lower than response rates for phone surveys (38% and 41%).
In the second experiment, Gallup tested sending survey invites and reminders to Gallup Panel members via email and text message. Respondents were randomly assigned to 1of 3 treatment groups: email and text invites and reminders, email invites and reminders only, and text invites and reminders only. All emails and text messages directed respondents to a web survey.
Results – Response rates were highest when using a combination of email and text reminders. This finding is consistent with other research, which has found that employing a variety of contact methods can increase the likelihood of participation.
It appears that surveys deployed over email are among the best and easiest to supplement with text messaging. At the most basic level, texts can be used as a reminder/delivery system for web surveys. A study by Mavletova & Couper (Journal of Survey Statistics and Methodology (2014) 2, 498-518) indicates that surveys sent via email got a much higher response rate when they were accompanied by a text reminder. Even more effective is to use text to deliver the web survey directly. Because 53% of emails are opened on phones, making sure your survey is mobile compatible. By serving the link directly through text, you can remove the need for them to take any intermediary action between receiving the reminder text and beginning the survey.
Currently, the major obstacle for conducting a survey via text message is obtaining the consent to send a message. This legal barrier greatly limits the scope for conducting text surveys.
It is important to note that FCC regulations make it illegal for companies to send text messages without expressed consent. This means Gallup or its clients must have explicit consent from respondents before sending them a text message survey. Simply having permission to contact the respondent via cellphone is not enough. Individuals must give consent to be contacted via text message, which is a major obstacle for most survey projects.