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Survey Says…

The Cyber Soap Box is Open for Business

by Lee A. Caglioti

Many of us are guilty of audibly ranting at the nightly news or "quietly" cursing the manufacturers of the products we use every day. We wonder why people and companies don't see the light when we so plainly understand everything. If only we could bend the ear of the powers that be! If only we could persuade the general public that we have the clarity to resolve social issues! Ah, but we can! Never before have people been able to have their opinions heard by such a vast audience and in such a convenient forum. Both commercially and publicly, survey sites are popping up all over the web and they are reaping the oats of public opinion as fast as they are sown.

Everyone likes to put in his or her two cents' worth, but wouldn't it be nice to actually get paid for it? With the advent of the Internet, more and more companies are reaching out to gain the input of consumers by using surveys and focus groups and many of them are offering cash incentives. This isn't an opportunity to quit your day job, but if you like to be heard, the occasional "thank you" greenback is a nice bonus. Not all of the online survey centers offer monetary or even merchandise rewards. Some are looking strictly for feedback on current events or popular opinion topics, but all of them allow you to be heard on issues that generally affect all people. Most of the survey sites that offer cash or goods as incentives require a registration of the user. These are free, simple forms that ask for basic information such as name, email address, location, age, education level and the like. But before embarking into the wide world of questions and answers, be aware of the security features that each site offers. For basic security information, check your browser's help file. All of the sites that offer prizes have confidentiality statements and some use secure pages for users to transmit their initial data, but it is always wise to check before giving any personal information.

The predominant thread that stands out in the online polling sites is the "don't call us, we'll call you" principal. Obviously companies want market research from varying demographic groups at various times and this limits the registered users from participating in all polls. However, one of the premier sites that does not subscribe to this philosophy is Greenfield Online . Greenfield opens all its qualification surveys to its general membership and contacts those who qualify based on their answers for additional, more in-depth study. They have been an online presence for quite a while and they are certainly one of the most consistent in updating their list of available surveys. Greenfield typically offers prizes in the $5 to $50 range. The winners are picked by random from all those who have completed a particular survey. When the prizes are distributed, they are placed in an iGain account that is automatically created at the time of registration. From this account, members can choose to have a check disbursed or to donate their winnings to charity. Greenfield also offers daily quick polls on a variety of timely topics ranging from President Clinton's approval rating to picking your favorite celebrity spokesperson. Each of the Quick Polls offer immediate viewing of results so you can see how your opinion stacks up to those of your fellow citizens. Membership is not required to take part in the Quick Polls.

Equally appealing is American Consumer Opinion. Members are eligible to win one of three cash prizes (one of $150 and two of $50) in monthly drawings, as well as smaller incentives ranging from $3 to $10. Some of the clients that use ACOP to improve their services are Pace Foods, Amtrak, Guiltless Gourmet and American Airlines. Participating in the type of consumer survey that Greenfield and ACOP offer really does help shape the products and services that end-users see. ACOP primary surveys are provided on an "as-needed" basis depending on the demographics of one's initial registration; they will contact individuals via email. Like Greenfield, ACOP also offers fun polls in which anyone can participate.

Focusline and Decision Tree are two other "on-call" sites that use a chat-based environment to get the opinions of their panel members. They typically pay $25 to $45 per half-hour to one-hour session. If you qualify, you can also earn $10 for an email poll and about $30 for a focus group session at CyberDialogue. If you have a keen eye for Web site design and content, TestNow wants to hear from you. Again, they will contact you when your profile matches their client's need for reviewers. Wired Insights puts a slightly different spin on the process. While they are the same as many of the others in that they will contact you to participate, they guarantee that you will receive some type of prize when you have completed five surveys. Mar's Surveys expands the typical question-answer survey with panels doing taste tests, mock juries, exit polls and other hands-on activities in various locations around the country. They compensate their panel members with cash or new product awards.

If you're ready to read what others are thinking and contribute your voice to the mix, then set aside several hours to surf around in the non-paying sites. You're likely to find all types of questions, from the serious to the silly. Where else can you tell millions of people what you think of your local government or which breakfast cereal provides the biggest sugar rush? Where else can you find out that 32% of 676 people surveyed still use rotary phones? Who else is going to tell you that 57% of 645 folks really do like "South Park"?

We all want our thoughts on the profound and the mundane to be known, and the Weekly Web Poll is one of the places to step up to the proverbial microphone. The producers of the Weekly Web Poll don't shy away from the hot issues, either. They stay topical; most often their main weekly poll is based directly on the headlines. Be warned, however, that you'll need to wade through more than a few free offers and commercial links to get to the crux of the page. The site design isn't the slickest, but it gets the job done. One nice feature is that the archived polls are available for review and participation.

If you want to go strictly political, check out Voice of the Internet (VOTI). VOTI claims that they take the results of the anonymous polls and send them to Washington, which is a great concept, but they do not provide users with any additional information or details. The polls are brief and to the point, and results are readily viewable. The ten available topics include television, gun control, education, taxes and other public hot points. You'll see quite a few ads for freebie links, but they don't really obscure the site.

After you've spent some time voting via mouse, you may be ready to give a little bit more of your opinion. Standard polls are often thought provoking, yet the limited selection of answers available can be very confining. If you've found this to be the case, your next stop should be PollNet. The questions aren't that much of a departure from those elsewhere on the Net, but here you can add as much of your own discourse as you choose in the PollNet forums. Additionally, you can submit your own questions for future polls, which may be useful as a research tool or may just be a general kick to see what others think about the topic of your choice. PollNet has won several awards and they offer a free newsletter that provides monthly results of their online polls.

We may not all have an opinion on every topic, but there is certainly something out there for everyone who wants to sound off. And while you probably won't get rich from being a participant, you may gain a great deal of insight about the voice of the people. You'll also be able to directly affect the creation of new products and help to improve some of the old standards. If the increasing presence of online polls is any indication of what the future may hold, why not get in on the ground floor of a new way to influence the world in which we live?

A former executive chef, Lee Caglioti lives in southwest Florida with her husband and two stepchildren. She keeps busy by helping with the family woodworking business, collecting tarot cards and freelance writing. Lee is also an avid reader and plays a mean game of Scrabble.


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