We get a lot of questions from private and independent schools about surveys and market research. Everyone wants the best data to help guide their decision making… but no one wants to over-survey their parent community, and many aren’t clear on the highest ROI market research opportunities. Here are a few tips to maximize the impact of your audience surveys and improve completion rates.
Before we dive into anything else, let’s pause and talk about WHY you’re planning a survey. Every successful market research project starts by knowing exactly what information you want to collect – and why. Always ask yourself, “why does this matter?” and “what will we (really) do with this information?” Going into every survey project with an answer to these questions helps ensure better response rates and better data – which ultimately means better decision-making for your team.
What makes a great survey? We’re so glad you asked. Surveys are most effective when they are:
Survey people when the event or idea is fresh or top of mind for them.
When is a good time to survey parents?
After major school events. Gauge satisfaction after parent-teacher conferences, open houses, fundraising initiatives or school plays… but only if the feedback is about an item within the school’s control and will help improve future events.
Before making major changes. If you're planning significant changes to your school's curriculum, policies or facilities, it's a good idea to survey parents beforehand to understand their concerns and opinions. This can help you make informed decisions that are in line with your parent community's expectations.
After the school year. A survey at the end of the school year can provide valuable feedback on the overall experience for parents and students. You can ask about what they liked, what could be improved, and what they're looking forward to in the upcoming year.
On the flip side, avoid surveying parents during busy or stressful times such as exam season, holidays, or during a pandemic, as this can be an added stressor for parents and can negatively impact response rates. You’ll also want to avoid sending out a survey right after you’ve sent another survey. Be sure to check in with your colleagues to ensure your surveys are spaced out – or better yet, combined.
Keep it as simple as possible, and write and position the questions from an unbiased perspective.
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
Focus your questions. Keeping a theme – or at least a logical pathway through a few related topics – will help ensure your audience is thinking about your questions critically.
Know who you are targeting and make sure each question is relevant to them. If a question isn’t well suited to your audience, consider re-phrasing it, saving it for a future survey or segmenting your survey and sending different versions to different audiences.
Use a mix of question types (open-ended, closed-ended, rating scales) to gather a diverse data set.
Choose a professional, trustworthy, and easy to use platform. Survey Monkey is an industry leader, but a simpler survey might also work as a Google Form.
Survey response rates are traditionally low, so use the following ideas to encourage participation so that your results are valid and the insights are helpful and actionable.
Offer an incentive. This can be as simple as a chance to win a gift card or school merchandise.
Create a sense of urgency. Surveys get most of their responses within the first 36 hours, so don’t feel pressured to keep your survey open for an extended period of time.
Send a reminder. Parents are busy, so send out one friendly reminder just ahead of the deadline–ideally, just to the people who didn’t respond.
There’s no point in doing a survey if you’re not going to use the insights to take action. Before you send out a survey, pre-plan how you are going to analyze and use the results, and make sure every question is relevant. Also make sure to share the data with the people who need to know.
We could talk about market research for hours, but we’ve narrowed down this vast subject area to a few additional tips, tricks and helpful hints for you to keep in mind – and put into practice.
Check for bias and clarity. Ask a colleague to double check your survey before it is sent out. Obviously, you’ll want them to check for spelling, grammar and any obvious technical errors – but it’s also helpful to get a second opinion on clarity (making sure your questions are very easy to understand and can only be interpreted one way) and bias (making sure your questions are not leading to the answers you want to hear).
Experiment with less formal survey opportunities. Not every question needs to turn into a full-fledged survey. People are often more likely to participate in something they know will be quick – and some topics lend themselves well to these kinds of formats (like asking your school community to vote between two hoodie designs for next year). Think about leveraging Instagram Polls, adding a question to your weekly newsletter, sending out a focused three-question survey or even asking parents/families to drop their ‘vote’ into a jar at your next in-person community event. Done well, these can sometimes yield greater participation… and even quicker information for your team.
Consider the benefits of anonymity. It’s tempting to want to follow up with respondents who aren’t happy, but offering anonymity can lead to better, more honest responses. Weigh the pros and cons, then be clear with your participants about whether their answers will be anonymous or not (and stick to that commitment).
Use multiple research methods. Think beyond the survey! Surveys are just one method of market research. Consider using focus groups, interviews and online analytics to gain a comprehensive understanding of your audience. (Read more about the data everyone should care about on our blog.)
Offer an incentive. Almost every survey will work better if you offer an incentive to complete it. Try experimenting with a few different prizes and formats to see what works best with your school community – and don’t be afraid to mix it up! Think about things like school swag/merch, an entry into a draw for a gift card or even a ‘zero cost’ idea like winning reserved VIP parking and seating for the winter concert.
Try tightening up the timeline. It might feel counterintuitive, but humans work well with deadlines – and a too-long timeline can sometimes result in fewer responses as people intend to complete a survey later but never get around to it. Most survey results will come in within the first 24 to 36 hours. Try setting a deadline that’s just a little bit longer – then stay open to extending it by a few extra days if needed.
Stay up to date. Market research should be an ongoing process. Regularly gather feedback from your current and prospective families, and analyze industry trends to ensure your school is meeting the needs and expectations of your audience. Consider benchmark surveys where you ask the same questions at the same time to the same audience so you can track important issues and trends (especially at the beginning and/or end of the school year).
(To stay current with your audience, read our guide to marketing your private school to millennial parents.)
Work with an expert. Partnering with an external agency can streamline the process, help you identify and fill the gaps on missing areas, provide fresh ideas from an unbiased source, and help you gain internal alignment and buy-in.
(Need more proof? We’ve got 9 reasons to work with an education marketing company!)
At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing requirements with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or sign up to receive more marketing tips in your inbox.