How to Use Your Own List to Get Survey Responses: 9 Ideas

If you have ever tried to publish your own survey-based research, chances are you can appreciate this recent sentiment from @StoriesWithGill:

Well, “more people” (aka me) are trying to do it, but it’s bloody hard! For ex., there is this freelancer survey I’m trying to get answers for ( Takes literally 1 minute. 2 days of outreach. Just 45 answers. ?Any actionable tips on how to make this work?

— Gill Andrews (@StoriesWithGill) May 16, 2018

Yes, getting survey responses is tough. In fact, it’s the top challenge cited by those conducting survey-based research. And, with the changing algorithms and rules on social media, this challenge is more pronounced than ever.

So how should you get responses in 2018? Here are 10 ideas to help in your quest for survey participants.

Are you struggling to get responses to your survey? Here are 10 real-life tested ideas and examples. Share on X

A huge thanks to Gill Andrews who not only inspired this blog post but also shared her feedback on what worked well for her — and what did not help her cause.

Quick yet important side note: Regardless of which ideas you try below, you need to reach out to people who are representative of those you want to survey. Said another way, you need to ask people who share the characteristics of people you want to answer the survey. For example, if you want to survey B2B technology buyers, it won’t help to reach out to your marketing friends . . .  unless they know those B2B buyers.

Create an easy-to-answer survey

Before you try any of the ideas below to get survey respondents, make sure your survey is truly easy and unobtrusive for participants.

My pet peeve du jour — which I’m seeing more and more — is surveys that ask for (or even require!) an email address up front and for no stated purpose. In most cases, I exit the survey without completing it, and in all cases, I don’t share it. This is an extreme example of what not to do, but if your survey includes questions that are difficult to answer (or people simply don’t want to answer), participant will leave, and your response rate will be lower.

Survey design is something that is far more complex than this single idea in this post, but Clare McDermott offers some ideas on how to get started — and mistakes to avoid: How to Design a Survey that Works for Content Marketing Research.

Send a dedicated email to your subscribers

In my experience, sending a dedicated email to ask people to complete your survey is oftentimes the best way to get responses. Of course, you can also include a link to your survey in your newsletter and other mailings, but my anecdotal experience has shown that an email sent from the express purpose of asking someone to complete the survey often works best.

Of course, your mileage will vary. Case in point: Gill reported that this tactic did not work especially well in her case, but this was likely because of the aforementioned sidenote: Her email list includes solopreneurs, SMBs and agencies — and she was specifically looking for freelancers to answer the survey.

Another way to send a dedicated email asking people to complete your survey is to include one in your automated email sequence. This option may prove to be more effective than including a CTA on a thank you page (more details below) especially if you have a way to segment your new subscribers in advance.

PRO TIP FROM GILL: Compose your email in plain HTML to increase the chances for it to land in the main inbox, and give it a simple subject, for example “Quick question”.

Find one (or more) distribution partners

If you don’t have a large enough list — or your list is not representative of the people whose insights you desire —  can you partner with someone who has a large and engaged audience?

This is the approach we took for our inaugural study mentioned above, “State of Original Research in Marketing in 2018”. Our company was completely new and we had no list, but we wanted to survey marketers to learn if and how they are using original research.

To get the responses we needed, we reached out to Buzzsumo, a company we not only admire, but one with whom we have had a relationship.

Both of our organizations share a story and vision: we believe original research is a true opportunity for marketers, and we wanted to understand if and how they are using it. We explained that we would execute all aspects of the survey and reporting (with their review and approval, of course) in exchange for them surveying their audience. The process worked quite well!

Another option is to work with multiple distribution partners. Hailley Griffis from Buffer explained that this is something they did for their inaugural State of Remote Work. They partnered with several partners: Doist, Workfrom, Hubstaff and Trello. As Hailley explained to me, each partner distributed the survey and was quoted in the final research.

Offer respondents a toolkit or resource in exchange for completing the survey

Some surveys offer participants financial incentives to complete surveys (e.g. 5 random people will get a gift card). While I wouldn’t rule this out, a better approach is to offer respondents something educational such as a toolkit or checklist.

This is one of the experiments Gill tried when promoting her research, and she said it worked remarkably well. You can see the tweet she used below; and she had a similar message on LinkedIn that worked well, too.


  • Don’t re-use the same message on social. The people who got involved the first time didn’t have the motivation to get involved the second time.
  • Have a sense of urgency in your message. It works well to say you only need a certain number of responses.

Record a short video asking for participation

If you peruse your LinkedIn feed, chances are you see a lot of people posting videos. To get your survey in front of your network — and your network’s connections — consider posting video that is short and personal explaining why you are doing your survey and asking people to participate and share. Jason Miller shares 13 tips on how to create compelling videos for LinkedIn if you are looking for some ideas.

Gill created a  video asking people to participate, and received great engagement.

PRO TIP FROM GILL: Think closely about your message and choose something that will “spark the most action.” If she were to do this again, Gill would reduce the number of possible actions someone could take. (In this example, she used: “complete the survey, download checklist, tag 5 friends, receive a homepage review.”)

Get personal

Another option is to reach out to people in your personal network and ask them to participate in and share your survey. A few suggestions:

  • Send personal emails to relevant contacts
  • Tag people in social media
  • Send direct messages via social media

My general suggestion is to reach out to your contacts once; don’t ping them multiple times.

PRO TIP FROM GILL: Respond to all social mentions of the survey and thank people who shared or participated. This is especially key on LinkedIn as it helps put the post in the feed more often.

Proactively ask people to be quoted in your research

This next idea comes from Andy Crestodina who used (a lot) of personal outreach to get survey respondents for his now-annual State of Blogging.

“I also had to plan it from the beginning to include some bigger names in the piece itself, so there’s 12 questions. For every question, there’s a quote from Joe Pulizzi, or Ann Handley, or one of the big time names in the business. So, knowing that they’d be included, some of them promoted it. I’m like, “Yeah. As soon as I get done with this information gathering, I’m gonna include this quote from you, but I’m not quite done yet. If you feel like helping, you can just send this to your … “”

Add a survey CTA to your thank you pages

When I originally drafted this post, my suggestion was to post a call to action to your survey on your page(s) with highest traffic, but Gill had another — and better — idea: include a link to your survey on your thank you pages.

As people who get to the thank you page are already engaged and have done something with your brand, I suspect they will be more likely to participate in your survey as well.  In fact, Gill said her conversion rate for the survey on her thank you page was 25%!

PRO TIP FROM GILL: Include your photo next to CTA either looking straight or towards the CTA. Studies show  that if there is a human face next to a request, more people tend to do what you’re asking them.
3 keys to get people to participate in your survey from @StoriesWithGill: 1) Have a sense of urgency; 2) Offer a toolkit or checklist; and 3) Include a link for your survey on your thank you page. Share on X

Include a link to your survey in your email signature

This next idea comes from Ann Handley whose organization, MarketingProfs, is currently fielding a survey about work life. If you get a lot of email, it’s a simple idea to try: include a link to your survey in your email signature!

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