SMS surveys are conducted as a 2-way text message conversation, with one survey question sent at a time.  The answers can be coded with numbers – such as “Reply with 1 for x and 2 for y” or open, where respondents reply as a regular text message.

In this article, we enumerate the benefits and limitations of text message surveys.

Advantages of SMS Surveys

Text surveys are popular for a reason – SMS is still king in most parts of the world, and they come with several advantages:

  • Cost – Being remote in nature and text messages being a cheaper option compared to phone calls, SMS surveys greatly reduce the level of effort, and cost as compared to in-person enumeration. They are also often free to respond to by the respondents, so the cost-benefit goes both ways.
  • Speed – SMS surveys can be deployed instantaneously and as opposed to modes such as CATI and IVR, many surveys can be conducted simultaneously thus collecting data faster.
  • Quality – Being a self-administered mode, reduces human error by enumerators.  such as inconsistency in survey delivery, an increased risk of a transcription error, and even fabrication of data.
  • High response rates – Pretty much everyone with a mobile phone has access to the SMS feature on their phone, even those using basic and feature phones. The respondent also has full control over when, where, and how the text is reacted to. SMS surveys that are free for respondents such as GeoPoll’s also reduce the barriers to participation.
  • Real-time Data – Backed by the right survey platform, results from SMS surveys can be relayed and analyzed in real-time for quick decisions.
  • Honesty – survey respondents are more honest when responding to online or SMS surveys as opposed to phone or in-person surveys. Therefore, SMS surveying can contribute to higher levels of transparency, consistency, and accuracy in data collection.
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SMS surveys are a powerful tool for quick and cost-effective data collection, but they also have their limitations. Here are some of the disadvantages of using SMS surveys.

  • Access – not everyone has a cell phone, and we may need data from people we cannot access on mobile, especially the marginalized.
  • Lack of detail – SMS messages are limited in length which means that questions have to be shortened, often making them less clear. There is so much you can convey and request from respondents in 140 characters
  • Errors by respondents – While we have outlined the advantage of self-service, there could be inadvertent errors (such as replying with a 1 instead of a 2 in coded answers) and intentionally misleading responses that could be caught by an enumerator (such as gender).

GeoPoll SMS Surveys

GeoPoll SMS SurveysGeoPoll was the pioneer of SMS surveys in emerging markets. Over the years, we have perfected the use of SMS to collect fast, actionable data for brands, development organizations, media houses, and others. Our direct integration with Mobile Network Operators ensures respondents have a seamless experience taking the surveys, which do not cost any money for a respondent to receive or respond to, and we deposit airtime credit incentives immediately upon survey completion. Currently, GeoPoll has access to close to 300 million respondents across the world that we can survey using text messages, making GeoPoll the largest SMS survey provider in the world.

Contact us to learn more about our SMS Research capabilities.