Monday, September 12, 2005

Black Magic

It's been awhile since I've posted as I've started a new job. I've been busy wrapping things up at my old firm and I'm just getting started at my new one. Exciting times.

Previous readers may note that I've deliberately avoided naming the company I work for on this blog, and I'm going to continue with that policy. I hope readers respect my desire to maintain that wall so I can write openly about measurement efforts without exposing company business.

One thing of interest -- this firm is committed to quality, and measurement is a big piece of that. That's the good news. What I find surprising is that even here, the need to measure the impact and results of communications has barely found a foothold. In a place brimming with Six Sigma and quality efforts, communications is largely a collection of strategic tactics with little measure of results. Green pastures for us metrics nuts.

Anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post, my father-in-law belongs to a small club and I agreed to help him survey its members. It's not a country club but is a similar blend of sport and social activities. I used to create the survey and sent an introductory letter and URL link from his e-mail account so the members would not think it was spam from me.

He refers to the entire endeavor as "black magic" and is in awe of my pretty pedestrian talents with the computer. As usual, I learned a few things that I'll pass on here.

He has a slight tendency to ask questions I consider rhetorical. For example, a question like:

  • When we schedule single night events for both Friday and Saturday evenings of the same weekend, both have often been undersubscribed. Members tend to subscribe to one or the other night, not both. We think there are advantages of having one fully subscribed event rather than two that are half-subscribed. Do you agree? Yes/No.

I'm not sure there's a lot of argument here, so my instinct is to eliminate the question. On a practical level, the question does make the survey longer, something I avoid like the plague. More to the point, only allows 10 questions in its free version, and in this case we were already over our limit.

The way I tackled it was to combine two questions. The next question asked if the combined event should be on Friday or Saturday. This is how the final question was posed:

  • When we schedule single night events for both Friday and Saturday evenings of the same weekend, both have often been undersubscribed. Members tend to subscribe to one or the other night, not both. We think there are advantages of having one fully subscribed event rather than two that are half subscribed. If we scheduled single night events on only one night per weekend, which night would you prefer?
    - I'd be more likely to attend on Friday nights.
    - I'd be more likely to attend on Saturday nights.
    - I'd be likely to attend on either night.
    - I'm not likely to attend on either night.
    - Other (please specify) text box provided

The respondent who doesn't agree that only one single night event should be scheduled per weekend can choose the "other" option to propose an alternative. It's still a bit wordy, but does the trick.

Similarly, several questions were variations on this:

  • If we organized X event, would you be interested?

By combining these into a single question, we were able to get under the 10 question limit:

  • We're considering several kinds of events for the upcoming season. Please check the ones that are of interest to you:
    - X event
    - Y event
    - Z event
    - Other (please specify) text box provided

In fact, we were down to nine questions, so I added a final question that asked responders to rate their overall satisfaction with their club membership. By always including that question in future surveys, the club can track whether it's moving in the right direction.

This is not just an exercise in being cheap. It's good self-discipline to make surveys short, both for the respondent and for you -- if you are inundated with data you will never finish playing with it and begin using it to make improvements.

I'll include directions for one simple thing that makes using these online surveys easier for the respondent. That is, creating a hyperlink so respondents can access the survey in a simple and non-threatening way. Being able to say: "Click here to take the survey" is much less threatening to the non-technical among us than "Click to take the survey."

This generally works for all Microsoft applications, such as Word or Outlook. It works in Yahoo e-mail. I suspect it works in nearly all applications, with some slight variation.

  1. Get the URL, also known as the Web address, of the site you want someone to go to. On, follow the directions when your survey is ready to send and click the selection for sending a link in e-mail. For other purposes, such as sending someone a link to a website, just copy the address from the Address window at the top of your browser. It usually begins with http://www. To copy the URL, highlight the text in the Address window or from your other source and go to Edit>Copy or press your CTRL button and the letter C at the same time.
  2. In your e-mail (or in Word if you're composing the e-mail there), highlight the word you want for a link. For example, if you say "Click here to access the survey" highlight the word "here."
  3. In Word or Outlook, go to the toolbar and select Insert>Hyperlink.
  4. Place your cursor in the little window and paste in the URL you copied. You can paste by pressing CTRL-P.
  5. In Yahoo mail and likely some other programs, look for the universal symbol of hyperlinks -- a little globe with some chain links over it. Click there for a hyperlink window, and paste in the URL.
  6. If it worked, the highlighted word will take on the look of a link. In most cases that means it will turn blue and be underlined, though the look changes depending on the program and settings.
  7. If you did all this in Word, you can copy and paste the text into your e-mail and the link will be pasted along with it.
  8. I always send the first draft of these e-mails to myself (and anyone else on the team) to be sure and test the link. You should too.

If this doesn't work, you may have an e-mail program that is set for "Plain Text." While some programs only allow plain text, many can be set to plain text, rich text, or HTML format. If you can't find a hyperlink option, look for a Format menu and see if you can change it from plain text to rich text or HTML. This works in Outlook, for example.

If you send a link to someone who has their e-mail set for plain text, the original URL will show up in their version and they will be able to click it to reach your survey or webpage.

This may be child's play for some of you, but here at Stand On A Box we know it's often hardest to learn the things that others take for granted.

And don't forget to enter your e-mail address on this site so you're alerted to new postings. Just scroll down on your right for the "Subscribe" window.


Matt said...

Some clever folks have figured out how to post ads on the blog, I assume through some program. I'm deleting them.

Anonymous said...

What is SIP?