Developing Surveys to Use in Your Public Relations Efforts, Part 2

In my previous article about survey development, I described some issues relating to survey participant pool sizes and tips for developing better questionnaires to lead to more media friendly and attention-grabbing data points for public relations.

Common questions I get from clients tend toward: “Do I have to pay for a survey company? Can’t we just do our own using our own lists? Or do it on social media?” Yes, you can use a cost-effective tool like Survey Monkey if the goal of your survey is to get some fun facts. But if you are surveying your existing lists of customers, partners, and prospects — or doing a simple Twitter poll — the audience is not representative. The media won’t find your survey credible.

survey for public relations

“Surveys based on self-selected volunteers, such as opt-in online polls, do not have a grounded statistical tie to the population. Estimates from self-selected volunteers are subject to unknown errors that cannot be measured,” said the American Association for Public Opinion Research about what it calls a “credibility interval.” If you want your research to be taken seriously by mainstream media, you need a serious survey partner — professional reporters will ask the source of your data and the margin of sampling error.

Paying for what you get

Consider working with a reputable research partner that is an expert in conducting surveys. A few that Sterling Communications clients have worked with — or that have been recommended by other public relations professionals — include these U.S. and U.K.-based firms (listed in alphabetical order): Audience Audit, Cite Research, Dimensional Research, Harris Poll, OnePoll, Qualtrics, Researchscape International, Sapio Research, Toluna, Uncover Research, Vitreous World, and Wakefield Research.

Some of these companies are full-service research vendors that will help you develop the survey questionnaire, identify and recruit the participants, tabulate results, provide reports and charts and graphics in varying detail, and even assemble pitch guides for use with media. Others may focus more on just the surveying steps and data analysis. If you have your own resources for design and media relations who are already expert at your branding and messaging, then you might opt for cost-effective options that will allow you to cherry-pick the stages of the process for which you need support.

If you have deep pockets, you can also commission surveys from respected analyst firms such as Gartner, IDC, Forrester, and Frost & Sullivan; or from a customer publishing house like MIT Technology Review Insights. Their logo will give your survey project the burnished patina of serious qualitative and/or quantitative research. However, they are also highly protective of their brand reputation, so will have more restrictions over how you promote the research.

Doing survey development right

Survey projects require planning and a great deal of thought to ensure you get a useful outcome. “Garbage in, garbage out” really does apply.

Don’t forget to get buy-in from senior management, as you want someone to act as survey spokesperson for follow-on public relations activities. If you don’t have their support, then they won’t be excited to tout the survey’s output at conferences, in podcasts, and throughout the company’s marketing content.

Happy surveying!

If you’d like more help in developing a survey or you have exciting research to promote to the media, send us an email at go@sterlingpr.com.

Developing Surveys to Use in Your Public Relations Efforts, Part 1

Surveys can be powerful tools for public relations teams as well as product marketing teams. They can serve dual purposes, demonstrating thought leadership and/or collecting data to provide insight into a particular market segment or audience stance on an issue. 

surveys for public relations

But a survey developed for PR purposes — say, to elicit “fun facts” to weave into contributed articles, blog posts, and media pitches — may not produce the quantitative and qualitative insights that a product marketing team needs for refining products and services. If you simply want a data point to validate a marketing point, it may be more effective to find publicly available data or pay a third-party for reuse rights. 

Before developing a survey, it’s important to agree up front on intended purpose and hard-data-versus-soft goals, as that will guide the questions and format, and determine the necessary survey respondent pool size. Those in turn affect cost and final product — report, slides, standalone graphics, landing page, etc.

Surveys do require a lot of effort to do well. In developing PR-focused surveys for clients, I have found three key stumbling blocks:

  • Survey pool sizes (and traps)
  • Questionnaire development
  • DIY or tapping a vendor (Part 2)

How big is the pool?

For your survey to be viewed as credible, you need to be transparent regarding the survey pool size and the source of the respondents. That’s why a press release or article or slide deck about survey results will have fine print disclosing the demographics.

If your survey data is collected from a group that isn’t a good approximation of the population as a whole, then it may be biased. When a survey vendor looked at a corpus of press releases to determine common sample sizes for PR-focused surveys, the median size was about 1,000. A survey of 1,000 people in Australia (26 million in 2021) is obviously far more statistically valid for consumer sentiment than a survey of 1,000 people in the U.S. (332 million).

Business-to-business (B2B) surveys of highly targeted audiences (say, IT professionals at North American companies with a minimum of 1,000 employees) do typically have lower sample sizes than surveys of general consumers, voters, or employees. The same survey vendor found the median size of a B2B survey was 377 respondents vs. 1,032 respondents for a business-to-consumer (B2C) survey.

The trap of Simpson’s paradox

Be wary of pooling survey results to get “global” or “multi-country” results. Simpson’s paradox, also known as the amalgamation paradox, is a phenomenon in probability and statistics in which a trend appears in several different groups of data but reverses or disappears when these groups are combined. 

Comparisons of results across countries is interesting for the cultural perspective, but consolidated, averaged data may not accurately represent the population sentiment of any country. 

For example, perhaps you do business in Latin America as well as the U.S. Your product marketing team wants a survey that reflects a Latin American market that is similar in size to that of the U.S. You may survey the same number of people in three countries of vastly different sizes — Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, for example. If you look at the data country-to-country, there may be significant differences among them, as well as in comparison to the United States. But when you pool the data across the three countries for an overall “Latin American” result to compare to the U.S., the combined result may give you very misleading impressions. That can lead to poor decisions related to any product aimed at those countries.

That is the question

I have learned the hard way that the more time and analysis that goes into the development of the survey questionnaire, the more useful the data will be. 

Screening questions. Decide how finely you want to slice and dice your data, depending on whether you’re using the data for general PR visibility or for true market research. You’ll want some screening questions, but do you need to know age, gender, race, geographic region, company size? Those questions “count” toward the number of questions you are asking. You don’t want the survey to be too long, as the participant may get frustrated and quit. You may also be paying for a certain number of questions.

Yes/No questions. A survey that you’re conducting for PR purposes should produce bigger extremes in responses, in order to get more headline-worthy numbers. Meanwhile, a survey designed to produce true marketing insight may need questions that will result in more nuanced responses. Yes/no, black/white questions that force people to choose a single option instead of multiple choice or carousel “choose all that apply” responses will result in bigger numbers for stronger statements. In that way, if 30% said Yes, you can accurately assume 70% said No — instead of 40% No and 15% Sometimes and 15% Frequently. It’s easier to “reverse the math” or flip statements from a negative to a positive in order to get a headline-worthy number.

Avoid negative assumptions. Try to avoid questions that will result in twisty logic and false assumptions. For example, “Which of these options do you dislike the most?” or “Which do you like the least”? assumes all are disliked. Therefore, you can’t assume reverse statements are true (that people like X most). It’s better to ask positive questions (“Which do you like the most?” or “Rank by the order you like most”) and then assume the option with the lowest ranking is most disliked/least preferred/least favorite. 

Question language and flow. Your questions should have a natural, logical order and build upon each other to help steer the thought process of the survey respondent. Sometimes new questions are added late in the development process but there’s a related question elsewhere in the survey. If you want to keep them both, it makes sense to have them appear consecutively. And be sure you’re using consistent terminology or have a reason for variance, for example, “customer support” versus “customer service” versus “customer experience.”

Second-guess yourself. Review each question in the survey and consider, “Why are we asking this? Who wants this info? What will be the resulting statement and will it be interesting or useful?” As noted above regarding screening questions, if you don’t have a good reason or know how the data will be used, then don’t bother with the question.

Intermission

Always leave your audience wanting more!  In my next blog post, I’ll provide some advice on determining when it’s appropriate to do your own survey versus getting outside help. And I’ll list some qualified survey vendors. 

In the meantime, please reach out to go@sterlingpr.com if you could use help in your PR or marketing efforts.

What is California’s new consumer privacy law and could you be fined?

If you’re not familiar with California’s new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), you’re not alone. In August, an IT security firm ran a survey of 625 business owners in California and found that almost half the respondents had never heard of the CCPA and less than 12% knew whether the law applied to their business. Now is the time for your company to assess the potential impact and take steps to comply with regulations if required. 

What is CCPA?

Taking effect on January 1, 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is modeled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and creates new consumer rights relating to the access, deletion, and sharing of personal information that is collected by businesses. The CCPA defines the responsibilities of businesses that collect and process personal information. The scope includes California businesses, as well as any business that conducts business with California residents. 

Among the rights ensured in CCPA are:

  • Consumers have the right to know all data collected on them, including what categories of data and why it is being acquired before it is collected, and any changes to its collection
  • Consumers have the right to refuse the sale of their information
  • Consumers have the right to request deletion of their data
  • Consumers have the right to opt-in before the sale of information on minors
  • Consumers have the right to know the categories of third parties with whom their data is shared, as well as those from whom their data was acquired
  • Consumers have the right to sue should breach occur or to ensure companies keep their information safe, and the state may also impose penalties for noncompliance or violation.

Which businesses are impacted?

The CCPA impacts both California-based businesses, as well as companies doing business with consumers in California. It applies to all businesses that meet any of the following three thresholds: 

  1. Has annual gross revenues in excess of $25,000,000.
  2. Buys, sells, or shares the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices. 
  3. Derives 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information.

While the $25M gross annual revenue is intended to help small businesses and startups avoid CCPA requirements, many companies already have email lists or internal databases with more than 50,000 records of past, current, or prospective customers. If you’re using a marketing automation platform (for example, tools like Marketo, HubSpot, etc.), have ever bought or scraped email lists, or have simply been in business for an extended period of time, you might find the 50,000 record count threshold is easy to reach.

Note that “sharing” can include something as simple as passing information from a website form to your email provider (as with Constant Contact and similar software) or sharing information with Google Analytics (CCPA scope includes technical information that is passed by a user’s browser when they visit your website.) Even if your organization does not currently meet the three regulation thresholds, the CCPA is expected to become a model regulation that will be adopted by other states and, potentially, at the federal level. Ignore the CCPA at your own peril.

What is the potential exposure of non-compliance?

The California Attorney General’s office is scheduled to begin enforcement by July 1, 2020, with a twelve-month “look-back period” (to July 1, 2019), with fines up to $7,500 per violation. The specifics of enforcement are still being developed by the State of California. While the CCPA will generally be enforced by the California Attorney General, private citizens can also make claims directly against a company if there is certain unauthorized access and exfiltration, theft, or disclosure of non-encrypted or non-redacted personal information. (Note that this might include such things as unencrypted spreadsheets containing customer information on a stolen laptop.)

What to do now

We recommend that our clients be proactive in assessing the impact of regulation and taking steps to become compliant if needed. While the safest advice is to ask your legal counsel, there are several steps you can take on your own.

First, simply Google “CCPA compliance” or refer to the resource links below to get up to speed. 

Second, if you believe your company is either not impacted or that the business risk is minimal, we recommend that every client still update their website’s privacy policy to comply with CCPA requirements. (You do have a privacy policy on your website, right? If not, now’s a perfect time to create one!)

Third, if you believe your organization will be subject to CCPA requirements, now is the time to inventory the information you collect (or have collected in the past and stored). Determine what information you need to run your business. If you are collecting or archiving data that is no longer useful, you can reduce your exposure by cleaning up your data and deleting information that is no longer needed.

Additional CCPA Information Resources

We’re not lawyers, but Sterling has been working with clients with GDPR and CCPA compliance obligations. If you have questions or would like Sterling’s help, please contact Mark Bonham at (408)395-5500.

The 3 rules of Wikipedia biographies

Wikipedia is a free, crowd-sourced encyclopedia that holds its users accountable for its contents. The site is all about volunteering knowledge and, theoretically, anyone in the world can post information about anything. But there are guard rails. The Wikipedia community has several requirements and unofficial guidelines that all updates and new entries must meet.

wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Autobiographies are a Non-Starter
Having a personal Wikipedia page is awesome: It’s a sign of clout, it ranks well in search engines, and it tells the world you did something worth knowing about. So why doesn’t everyone have a Wikipedia profile page? Because Wikipedia is not Facebook.

Wikipedia exists to note the notable, vetted by interested people who serve as proof that someone cares about the contents of an entry. Which leads us to the first rule for getting a Wikipedia biography about you published:

1. Have someone else post it because autobiographies are rejected on Wikipedia.

This is logical. Wikipedia is a site for useful information, not self-promotion. Someone else has to care about the content of the entry — go you! But the truth is that, even if you don’t have a single friend in the world, you could create an account under a fake name and try to post an entry on yourself (we didn’t tell you that). Even if you result to skullduggery, it still has to be a biography, not an autobiography — and it will be vetted by a volunteer army. Any chance of success comes down to language (watch your pronouns!) and verifiability, two points we’ll address next.

Get Neutral
Most of the time, it’s insulting to be called a fence sitter. On Wikipedia, however, maintaining a neutral position is imperative to getting published. Words like terrible or great don’t fly — your entry should read like hard news, not an Op/Ed. Which leads to the second Wikipedia rule, one we affectionately call the law of Sgt. Joe Friday:

2. Stick to the facts, not your opinion on them.

Following this language rule will ensure your submission’s tone of voice is consistent with the Wikipedia community’s expectations. It will also conveniently make it much easier to comply with the third rule for having your own Wikipedia entry…

Show the Receipts
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, 12 references are still required for it to get its own Wikipedia entry. Verifiability is the lifeblood of Wikipedia entries, and it is earned by linking to reputable external sources. With the spirit of a scientific research paper but the flexibility of a creative blog post, sources on Wikipedia can include articles, company websites, books, TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, other Wikipedia entries…you name it. But prestige counts for a lot:

3. Reference credible, well-known news publications as much as possible.

This, of course, implies that you already have an online news presence. We’re here to help if you need assistance with that.

The case for content marketing: Bridging the gap between earned and owned media

People associate public relations (PR) with the pursuit of “earned” media coverage. Whether it’s writing and distributing press releases, pitching stories to reporters and editors, or submitting clients for prestigious awards or speaking opportunities — you are effectively looking to earn media attention. The goal is to inspire credible third parties and influencers to tell your tale and share your message (or a version of it, anyway). Traditional earned media is still the backbone of PR, but in our highly digitized world, a well-rounded communications strategy should also address “owned” media — specifically, content marketing.

Owning Your Story
Content marketing refers to the practice of creating content for a targeted online audience to establish a relationship with them. Put simply, it’s a process for getting attention from the right people — not unlike public relations. However, because it’s created in-house for web distribution and is not subject to outside interpretation, self-published content affords greater control of message delivery. Basically, owned media in the form of digital content marketing lets you tell your own story. But to be effective, it has to be a story worth telling.

Below are several best practices to consider for your content marketing program.

1) Who are you talking to?
Content marketing is not meant to be about you, your brand, products, or services. It’s about your audience. Who are they? What do they care about? Start by doing research on your customer. Determine how your story can provide real value and how best to deliver it to them.

2) In order to sell something, don’t sell anything
Content marketing is inherently meant to be helpful over promotional. It is not synonymous with traditional marketing collateral that touts a company’s offerings or accolades. Instead, it uses how-to articles, whitepapers, case studies, e-books, videos, infographics, and webinars to provide answers to customers’ questions or solutions to their pain points. An important cornerstone of content marketing is that by helping other people succeed, you too will see a return on investment. Offer unique insight or helpful takeaways consistency throughout content marketing materials to establish trust with your audience. Offer credible information and share your expertise. This practice ultimately strengthens customer relationships and encourages loyalty.

3) Begin at the beginning
Before you even think about creating content, make sure you have identified your target audience, objectives, search-engine optimization (SEO) considerations, and brand voice. Each of these elements will inform your content marketing strategy. A content marketing strategy — which typically includes an editorial calendar, story matrix, content map, and style guide — should align with the overarching goals of your communications/PR strategy. Additionally, outline key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will use to measure success and/or reevaluation requirements.

4) Amplify your content
If you publish a blog post, share it from your Twitter account. If a piece of content is not performing well on one channel, explore others that may provide increased exposure to your desired audience. Leveraging the content you create across various web ecosystems provides multiple opportunities for your target audience to be exposed to your message. For example, it’s not uncommon (in fact, many argue it’s best practice) to share outstanding PR results on all your owned channels (brand social media accounts, website, blog, etc.).

5) Don’t forget SEO
Your customers are asking questions, and they use search engines to find answers. You want your information to be at the top of those search results. SEO ensures your content is easy to discover via search engines and helps drive the curious to your website. Common SEO best practices include diligent tagging (descriptions in the HTML code for how your content is presented on the web) and appropriate keyword propagation (identifying the terms people use for searching specific topics online and deftly using those keywords in your content marketing text).

A successful content marketing program will result in enhanced visibility and customer trust. When properly nurtured, the symbiotic relationship between earned and owned media builds brand reputation, boosts web traffic, and generates new business opportunities.

Learn more about content marketing here.

Three Reasons Video Isn’t Just for Marketing Anymore

The data is clear. Video is a must-have component of any modern-day strategic marketing plan. But in case you’ve been stuck with your nose in a paperback book lately, here is some of what we know about the impact of video:

  • 90% of users say that seeing a video about a product helps their decision-making process;
  • 65% of execs visit websites and 39% of them call vendors after viewing a video, according to Forbes; and
  • 80% of users recall a video ad they viewed in the past 30 days, says the Online Publisher’s Association

So, given that videos produce such great results, why aren’t we regularly using video more broadly in the organization? That’s the question I asked myself last year. I’ve watched Sterling’s creative team produce beautiful, inspiring, and compelling client videos for years now, and frankly, I was jealous. Silicon Valley is a tight labor market where conveying a sense of corporate culture in within a minute can be a tremendous competitive advantage. So, I pushed for creating a series of employee- and candidate-centered videos. Here’s what we’ve learned from the process so far:

1. A good recruiting video is a great way to attract the right talent in a tight market. If you think about it, marketing to top talent is just as important as marketing to your customers. And, at Sterling, we’re always on the lookout for the right “fit,” not just the right set of skills. A well-produced authentic video that captures and conveys your company culture will definitely set you apart; moreover, it will attract the kind of people who will thrive in your company. As importantly, many poorly suited candidates will self-select out. And, as an added bonus, employees are not just willing, but eager to share fun videos about themselves and their company…so the network effect can be huge. (more…)

10 Tips for Taking the “Work” out of Networking

 

If you’re like most people, walking into a room of relative strangers—especially without a wingman (or wingwoman)—can be a daunting prospect. Whether scouting for your next job or widening your professional circle, it can take steely resolve to push yourself onto the networking stage and perform. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tried and true tips to help you become a more successful (and less stressed out) networker. (more…)

Mastering the Art of Storytelling

creative storytelling

Here at Sterling, we share a love of storytelling. A great story engages people and commands attention, sticks in the mind—it’s the gold standard in communications. As such, storytelling underpins our professional strategies—both for ourselves and for our clients. But conjuring a compelling tale isn’t always easy.

We all encounter crises of imagination from time to time, and it often materializes in the form of writer’s block. In our business, you need to produce words to tell stories, but sometimes the words won’t come. Don’t let the daunting emptiness of a blank page intimidate you. With the following easy-to-use practices and tips, you can increase your productivity and perfect your craft—whether in press releases, blogs, web copy, scripts, or contributed articles. To keep your wellspring of inspiration bubbling, practice the art of conscious creativity.  (more…)

Digital Spring Cleaning Tips for Professionals

Sterling Communications Spring Cleaning Tech PR - Piling System

Spring cleaning typically means getting to work on dusty windows, stained carpets, and frighteningly full closets at home. But spring is also a good time to tackle neglected chores in your digital life. Let’s be honest, a lot happens in the average workday, schedules are packed, and it’s easy to let non-urgent tasks fall through the cracks. Putting them off for too long, however, makes them much more unpleasant and time consuming when you finally have to tend to them. No more procrastinating! Here are a few digital spring cleaning tasks you can (and should) conquer today. (more…)