Friday, July 11, 2008

Learning about your online clientele

One of the challenges of online delivery of information is that you seldom know who is "hitting" your website. A variety of techniques have been tried for feedback involving monitoring web logs and using brief "did you find what you wanted" surveys, but these techniques have limited value.

At Oregon State, Pat Herring and her colleagues developed an "ask the expert" system in which people who had questions about agriculture, horticulture and family and consumer issues could ask specific questions. In addition to answering the questions, they recorded information about the topics people asked about and their email addresses. Later they sent surveys to these individuals to find out more about their experience. Their survey was short and did not ask very intrusive questions. They asked the following questions:
  • age group,

  • size and location of their community,

  • How familiar they were with Extension before they contacted us online,

  • How satisfied they were with the information they received online, and

  • If they would recommend Extension's online resources to others.
They obtained a 40% return rate with their follow-up survey. This is a very respectable return rate for an online survey. Another recent paper reported a mean return rate across numerous surveys of about 50%.

This several aspects of this strategy that are notable. First, it reminds us to use data and information that we already obtain in the normal course of conducting online activities to create new information. Second, they developed a short, non-intrusive survey. This is a reminder that a little bit of information is better than none at all which might be the case with a longer survey. A series of repeated surveys with randomly selected users may be a better strategy that a long survey. Third, this work reminds about why interaction with users rather than passive participation may lead us forward. Had this group not developed an "ask the expert" system it is quite likely they would have never gotten the email addresses in the first place. Interactivity is at the heart of engaging online clientele.

1 comment:

Jill said...

This is informative. Thank you - J.Bowers