The Value of Equal Exchange
I was recently asked to incorporate a survey into an industry blog. From a strategy standpoint, a survey is a great method for user engagement. However,
during the review process it was asked to move the survey up in the hierarchy and I felt an instant cringe hit me right in the spine. As I thought about the idea of subjecting users to survey before they were convinced the site an expert resource for industry knowledge. As I began to form my response I started to consider the social contract a site creates between stakeholders and users.
The users have what the business needs and vice versa, but neither is necessarily willing to give the other what they want without an agreement. You may think that this may not always be true, but I assure you it is. Your first instinct may be to point out the thousands of sites that give away articles and information everyday. But is it really free? On these sites we exchange for clicks for entertainment, whether that be news, gossip or kitten pictures. Those clicks are then exchanged for ad revenue, which is then reinvested into providing more content which is then returned to the users, and on and on it goes.
Now we return to our industry specific site. Our audience is greatly reduced. Our chances for user engagement our also reduced. This site it’s going to have to rely on high quality of content not readily available. This site has that and some to spare, so where does this cringe come from?
In this scenario we have only two parties. The user who is seeking industry specific information and the business who is providing the information. The contract here requires only that the business provides the information and the user will read it. Now the site is asking the user to participate in the form of a survey. The survey requires the user to re-evaluate the relationship they have with the site.
The business has made two assumptions. Since the business has given away the information and the user has been reading it, they assume the opposite is long overdue. However the business has overlooked what they user has already given them, in the form of engagement, analytics and search engine weight. Now I’m starting to see where the cringe comes from. We’ve asked the user to volunteer information for a survey without first getting their consent. It may seem strange, but equal exchange is a principal that exists within the business community, especially with information.
Early in my career, I had the privilege of sitting in on a meet and greet with two VPs from separate companies considering a partnership. It started out with each VP only saying a sentence maybe two and patiently waiting for the other to respond. At the time, the pauses were excruciating to me, I didn’t understand why they weren’t talking more, why there wasn’t a more open exchange of ideas since they shared a common goal.
It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized I had watched the equivalent a boxing match between two heavyweights. The early rounds were just the occasional jabs to feel each other out. Neither one willing to exchange more information than necessary. However since neither was willing to commit for fear of leaving himself exposed, the match ended in a draw.
All in all a pretty boring match, which brings me back to our survey. If neither of these two VPs were willing to give away information to work towards a common goal, how can we convince either of them to take a survey? They won’t take the survey in exchange for information the business has already given them.
So now that we have thought through our scenario it’s time to make an addendum to our social contract. First we have to figure out how much is the information worth. Is this critical to our success, if so, we’ll need to up our game. So for this scenario, let’s say it is. The data from this survey is going to determine how we target our marketing efforts. Most would agree this is valuable information. So in exchange we should give something of like value.
A gift card comes to mind or better yet, a raffle. 1 in 1000 wins a $10 gift card for a particular coffee empire. If you argue that is not enough incentive, then you’ll have to up the ante. How about 1 in 100 win a gift card? If you were against the 1 in 1000 you’re already starting to see the value of this debate. Randomly asking people to take a survey is usually met with indifference, however asking them to take a survey in exchange for $10 is more likely scenario.
This is only one example of the social contracts we bring when we request information on the internet. This same debate can be in regards to forms, newsletter sign-up, or like us Facebook. You should always ask yourself first, “well, what would I expect in exchange?”