Are Online Surveys Worth Your Time?

Are Online Surveys Worth It?A while ago, I received a Gallup survey on travel in the mail. My first instinct was to throw it out, but I hesitated when I noticed along with the survey and brief instructional letter, the pollsters had included a crisp dollar bill for the five minutes of my time it would take to complete the survey.

Well then, time to reconsider!

A dollar for a five minute survey is the equivalent of $12 an hour–not too bad in today’s recession economy. The token compensation made me rethink my plan to throw it in the trash. And so it sat, along with that one dollar bill, for a couple of days on my coffee table. After all, I couldn’t very well keep their dollar and NOT fill out their survey, could I?

See how smart those Gallup people are? I’m sure most people would have been inclined to just ignore the request, but with a tangible reward included, people are more likely to fill out the survey and return it. Given the cost of creating and printing the survey, the mailing list and postage, plus the labor involved in compiling and reporting the results, the extra dollar to ensure increased response was probably well worth it for Gallup.

But are paid surveys worth it for those who take the time to fill them out? Over at Surviving and Thriving, Donna Freedman recently blogged about when online surveys are worth it. Based on her experiences–as well as those of her readers–there are an awful lot of surveys that are “expecting too much and offering too little.”

One way to decide whether something is worth the time investment is to sit down and calculate exactly what your time is worth. Taking your total compensation (salary plus benefits) and dividing by 2,080 (52 weeks times 40 hours per week) can give you a starting point towards determining the value of your time. But what if you’re underpaid (in which case this methodology might be understating the true value of your time) or unemployed (in which case any amount of income might be a valuable use of your time)? For some, any extra cash might be enough of an incentive to trade one’s time; for others, spare time is much too valuable to waste on chump change.

Back to my Gallup survey: When I sat down and really looked at it, I found there were two pages with questions printed on the front and back (four pages of questions in all) for a total of 27 questions. There was also the time involved in putting it in its envelope and getting it to a mailbox to send back once completed. A quick calculation determined that the survey would more likely take ten minutes or more–which puts the dollar compensation at a mere six bucks an hour–less than California minimum wage.

In a follow-up postcard Gallup sent me as a “gentle reminder,” they as much admitted to the time involved, this time stating it would only take 5-10 minutes to take the survey. Suffice it to say, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. I pitched the survey. I pocketed the dollar.

How much is your time worth and how do you calculate its value?

Stella Louise is the editor of the personal finance blog and what free time she has is spent catching up with her DVR rather than filling out surveys.

  • Matt Breed

    A few months ago, I got a Nielsen survey. It appears that they are taking the same tact as Gallop, but if I remember correctly, it was a brand new fiver in that survey.

    I, like you, felt that it was not worth my time and discarded it after nabbing $5.

  • Stella

    How many questions were on the Nielsen survey? I probably would have been guilted into doing it if there were only as many as on the Gallup one with a five dollar bill for compensation rather than only a one…

  • Katie Love

    I loved this. Been there, done that. It is so important to calculate what your time is worth and to also be flexible and adjust for pet projects. As a professional writer, I try to weigh the overall exposure and longevity of a piece or project, as well as the compensation. I think if we all did an “in-house” survey of what we’re worth around the house, the job and pet-project time, we might get depressed, realizing we’re grossly underpaid. That said, if you’re doing what you love, or as close to it as possible, that is another way to calculate worth and compensation. As for surveys, I can’t get to the Delete button fast enough!

    Thanks for this informative and entertaining piece!

  • Susan

    I hate surveys and it’s totally not worth my time. The time it takes for me to fill out the survey will be well over 30 minutes, considering I would be interrupted by my two kids every other minute. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t consider pocketing the money, is that bad?

  • Holly

    Good question at the end of the post…I basically calculate how much my time is worth based on two things: a) the going rate for the job–as Katie Love said, every writing project is different, so blogs, book chapters, or web content will all be worth a different hourly fee–based on industry rather than my own personal idea/opinion…and b) my need for money at the time–this inevitably increases or reduces what I feel the hourly fee should be even after checking industry standards:)

  • Vi

    Count me in on the side that hates surveys. I’d be likely to take the cash as well, but I’m also the type to seriously consider opening a checking account if the bank is offering a $100 incentive, never mind all the strings attached. Then again, $100 a bigger carrot than $5.

  • Allegra

    I’d be interested to hear the research behind this tactic of attaching money to the actual survey. I would have guessed that the vast majority of people just pocketed the money and threw the survey away, but enough people must fill it out to make it worth the lost money. Those people are a lot nicer than me.

  • Donna Freedman

    Thanks for the link! Coincidentally, I was recently sent a survey from my HMO and hadn’t filled it out. A couple of weeks later they sent me a follow-up note — with a $2 bill attached.
    Well, it got me off my dime. I filled out the (very short) paperwork and sent it off. The $2 went into my “Home” account (I’m saving up for a place of my own and all “extra” money, no matter how small, gets sent there).
    I, too, wonder how many people just kept the cash.