I note with some irony that I have never come across an online survey about the popularity of online surveys. But anecdotally I can certainly confirm that they’re past the gaining traction stage and have become an essential business tool for many companies. And why not? They are very easy to administer, provide instantaneous feedback, and can be employed across many different business application, from customer satisfaction to marketing intelligence to sales support.

Many Real Magnet clients are using surveys for these very purposes. Trade associations commonly send out annual or even quarterly member satisfaction surveys; publishers measure audience interests in advance of launching new publications or issuing free trial subscriptions; and surveys to measure feedback after conferences or webinars are nearly de rigueur at this point.

But there are some lesser-known, equally profitable uses of online surveys that businesses should consider, particularly if you’re already using Real Magnet for email. Here’s a start:

1. Voting and Elections. Board of Directors elections are an annual occurrence for trade associations, and Real Magnet’s Surveys Module is a perfect platform for them. Because it integrates seamlessly with Real Magnet, re-sending the ballot-survey to members who have not yet voted is easy. An example from a different industry is a major publisher, who uses online voting of magazine cover choices to its audience. A panel of its readers pick which cover they prefer and that’s what the magazine runs with. Voting can also be rolled out in more casual environments, such as a “photo of the year” or other applications which are more public expressions of preference and popularity than a controlled data-collection environment. For these informal uses, you can elect to publish the results of some questions in real-time, so respondents can see if their choice is winning.

2. Research. The challenge with most industry research is that most companies are happy to receive it and study the benchmarks, but are far less willing to actually contribute the data necessary to compile the research. This makes survey response rates extremely pivotal in research quality. And nobody understands response rates like email marketers. So why not treat your surveys in the same way you do your email campaigns? By building your research surveys through Real Magnet, you can track analytics in much the same way as you currently evaluate your email, and through the same familiar interface. You’ll know who has responded and who hasn’t, when responses come through, and also be able to drill down into the email response history of your research targets, to see if their email response history sheds some light on their reactions to surveys. If research is important to your organization – let alone your industry – apply the same rigor in conducting and analyzing the process as you do in your mission-critical email marketing.

3. Customer Engagement. Ultimately, surveys are a conversation. You ask questions; your customers or members respond. Getting them to leave comments on your blog or to retweet your news requires some initiative on their part, so it happens infrequently. But filling out a survey can be little more than following a link and clicking on some radio buttons or check boxes. To respondents, it feels a lot more like surfing than it does participating or actively voicing an opinion. But it breaks the seal, and does compel your audience to interact with you on some level. I like to include surveys as part of email winback campaigns, particularly very short ones that don’t include any open-ended questions or ask for personal information. If you have email subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked anything in a while, consider sending them a very brief survey asking for their opinion on a topic you believe is highly important to them. If it’s interesting and simple, you stand the greatest chance to get them to respond, which is the first step in winning them back and re-engaging them.

4. Customer Intelligence and Segmentation. The data most marketers examine from surveys are the answers that respondents provide. But if you think about your surveys as a measure of customer engagement (see #3), then who is responding is as telling as what they are saying. Wouldn’t it be valuable to know what 10% of your audience is the most connected to your organization? Look no further than the list of people who responded to your last online survey. They’ve taken action to provide you with feedback, which required effort on their part. Presumably the effort is worthwhile to them because they intend to continue their relationship with you. Regardless of what they say in the survey, the fact that they said anything is a powerful piece of customer intelligence. If you’ve conducted this survey through Real Magnet, it’s easy to move these respondents into their own group, and target them later with other high-engagement offers, such as Share-With-Your-Network (SWYN) campaigns, or special early registration offers for conferences and webinars.

5. Registrations and Sign-ups. At its core, our Surveys Module is a very robust forms platform that ports all collected information into a database Real Magnet clients are already familiar with. Click around your website and look at every other place you use forms – in particular those that collect data that doesn’t go into a central database, but instead drops it all into an email to someone (probably you) who has to manually input it into a spreadsheet. Would it make your life easier if some of those dropped data directly into the same database you use to generate email? For example, do you use a form to collect registration data for informal events like cocktail receptions? How do your members apply to be a part of committees? If you haven’t yet opened registration for your big conference, do you use a form to collect email addresses from people who want to be notified when they can sign up? All of this can be done with the Real Magnet Surveys Module, and the data you collect goes straight into the database you already use for email.

What would you like online surveys to help you with? Building stronger relationships with customers, collecting actionable insight, reducing your workload, or all of the above?