One way of understanding your members, particularly if you run a forum, is through the use of polls. This article will discuss the pros and cons of forum polls, and determine whether they are a good way of obtaining the opinions and thoughts of your members.
What are forum polls?
These polls allow you to ask a specific question and allow your members to choose their response from a set of pre-determined options offered by the person who started the poll.
Polls need not be restricted to forum administrators – depending on your chosen settings, you can even have your own members set them up. This can result in you obtaining information on your members’ thoughts and opinions in areas you may never have previously considered.
The advantages of forum polls
It is ridiculously simple to set up a forum poll. Just choose a question you want to ask your members, provide a number of options for them to choose from and you are off and running.
Results can be displayed in real-time; whenever you want to check the responses you can view the results. There is no need to wait for individual responses, or for a specific date in the future to come around before you can view all the results.
You can check on the progress of your poll at any time, and begin to gauge opinions before your specified time limit is reached.
Forum members understand polls – they will more than likely have seen or used them before. This means they are far more likely to participate as they know how forum polls work.
Another benefit of forum polls is that they are quick to set up, and quick for your members to complete – most people are put off by long winded surveys and questionnaires. When it comes to a poll, there is just a single question – even the answers are provided; your members just have to choose one!
Depending on how you have configured your forum, people may be allowed to vote even if they aren’t registered members of your community. This means you have the potential to obtain opinions from all visitors to your website – from the first time visitor to the loyal member.
All this sounds great, right? Simple, quick and easy. There are a few disadvantages to using forum polls to understand your members, though.
The disadvantages of forum polls
Unfortunately, the very things that make forum polls so attractive are the very reasons why they are often not the best way of understanding your community members.
The fact that you are setting a question and the choice of responses can result in a poll being biased. You need to ensure that the question you set is completely neutral and infers no opinion or suggestions. Similarly, you must ensure that you offer a range of possible answers without biasing the responses.
For example, if you decide you want to run a poll asking what colour background your members would prefer, a bad poll would read as:
Do you think that blue would be the best background colour, or another one (choose from the list)?
A better poll would read as follows:
What do you feel would be the best background colour for this forum?
Other (Please State)
The second poll is far less biased and doesn’t direct your members to a particular option or result. You are also offering additional feedback through the use of the ‘Other’ option – just ensure you encourage people to actually state what they want their ‘Other’ vote to mean!
As mentioned earlier, forum polls are simple and easy. You need to consider whether a forum poll is too simple for your needs – they are only effective for answering one question at a time and they only provide simple responses.
Sure, a member has told you their preferred option out of a list you have supplied them with, but you have no information about the thought process behind that choice or how strongly they feel about the option they have chosen; their choice of response may just have been the option closest to their true opinion.
Lastly, you must ensure you do not come to the conclusion that results from a poll are indicative of your entire community’s opinion. Remember that not everyone in your online community will respond to your poll – quite often only those that feel particularly strongly about the subject will take the time to respond; this can result in heavily biased results.
Similarly, if your website is not receiving a large amount of traffic or has few members you may want to consider the value of placing a poll on your site – what is the point in setting up a poll if it is only going to attract two or three responses? The data will be worthless and your community will look empty to new visitors, just as empty forum categories leave a bad first impression.
Conclusion and opinions
I believe that forum polls can be a great way of capturing a snapshot of basic opinion from your members. I would never advise relying on them for more serious opinion gathering or decision making – particularly if your site doesn’t receive a large amount of traffic.
Forum polls can be a good additional way of getting to know your members. Heck, they can even be fun – just make sure they are not your only method of obtaining information and feedback and be aware of their limitations.
Do you often use forum polls to understand your members? Do you use them to involve your members in decision making? What do you feel are the pros and cons of forum polls? Whatever your opinions, please share them by leaving a comment below.