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The Top 13 Do’s and Don’ts of Paid Online Surveys

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Paid surveys are wildly popular. Just type “paid online surveys” into the Google search bar and take a gander at the millions of entries that come up. Online surveys are a great way for companies to reach the masses with minimal cost. They can also be an interesting way for consumers to add to their income through cash payments, gift cards or points that can be exchanged for money or prizes. However, consumers should be aware of some of the do’s and don’ts of participating in online surveys so they can avoid scams, earn extra cash and provide market research firms with the data they need.

DO evaluate survey sites. There are some sites that pose as market researchers solely to obtain information from consumers. These sites will sell your information to advertisers and you will then be the recipient of unwanted spam if you sign up with them. As part of your due diligence, read every site’s privacy policy before enrolling to ensure it is legitimate and your information will not be sold. Marketing sites that pose as survey sites are likely to disclose their practice of sharing member information with other parties in their privacy policy. If you can’t find a privacy policy link, consider skipping that site and looking for another with easily located policy information. A credible website may have a privacy policy that includes a statement like the following: “We do not share personally identifiable information with other third-party organizations for their marketing or promotional uses without your consent except as part of a specific program or feature for which you will have the ability to opt out.” Check out Survey Junkie’s privacy policy; it’s a good example of the quality of the information that should be provided by a legitimate market research company.

DO join multiple survey sites. Experienced online survey members suggest interested consumers join multiple survey sites to increase the frequency of survey invitations. Some companies send out multiple survey invitations per day while others only send out a few per month.

DO set up an email address dedicated to your survey side gigs. Register with an e-mail address that is only used to receive survey invitations. Signing up with multiple sites is likely to generate a lot of legitimate, inbox-clogging mail! Down the road, if you decide you no longer want to take surveys, you can simply delete the e-mail address rather than going through the tedious process of unsubscribing from each account.

DO check your email account frequently. Participants need to respond to invitations quickly as many are first-come-first-served. Market researchers are typically looking for multiple categories of participants. If the category you fall into fills, you will be blocked from that survey. There’s no guarantee you will qualify for a survey – market researchers don’t disclose survey criteria. However, being quick on the draw gives you a chance to participate (and be rewarded!).

DO sign up for PayPal (or similar service). It’s never a good idea to share banking information. That doesn’t mean market researchers as a group are untrustworthy! However, there are unscrupulous people in the mix, so to my mind, it’s best to err on the side of caution, particularly when it’s so easy to do so by signing up for a PayPal account. You can have confidence with PayPal as your go-between – they fiercely safeguard user information!

DO sign up! Don’t think you’re unqualified to participate in surveys, perform product testing, write music, restaurant, movie or commercial reviews or join focus groups! Market researchers don’t generally specify what demographic they’re targeting, so if you’re a caregiver, senior, military spouse, student (18 and older for the most part), veteran, man, woman or any religion or ethnicity, you have a chance to participate! It typically takes just a few minutes to complete a pre-screener, so it’s worth it to give it a try if you’re serious about survey/research gigs. You can’t qualify if you don’t try!

DON’T give out personal information. It’s normal to be asked your date of birth, birth year or age as part of the screening process. However, avoid sites that want privileged information, such as your social security or driver’s license number. These are likely to be scams and may be set up to collect data by identity thieves. Many legitimate survey companies pay via check, PayPal and/or gift cards, so while your mailing address is needed, other personal information is not. (Caveat: if you earn more than $600 in a year from a single company, they (and you) are required to submit a 1099 [tax doc] to the government declaring the income. Personal information may be required to submit the 1099. Consult an accountant or visit irs.gov for more information on this topic.)

DON’T pay to play. Don’t engage with any company that promises survey gigs or big bucks then wants you to pay for access to them. There is no way to guarantee that every person who signs up to participate would qualify for every survey! In addition, most surveys and review gigs pay small amounts, so going back to point #2, it’s in your best interest to sign up with multiple (legitimate!) market research sites to maximize your payday.

DO be proactive and learn what is expected for each gig. Be aware of what you’re signing up for. Some surveys or review gigs will take five minutes while others may require a longer time commitment. Some jury research gigs in particular can take an hour or more rather than minutes if you are selected to be part of an online (or in-person) focus group. If your time is limited (a.k.a. you’re trying to squeeze in the latest survey while in the pickup line at your kids’ school), find out what the market research firm’s policy is on pausing a survey once you’ve started it. Survey sites may or may not allow you to stop and re-start a survey, so it’s better for everyone to be proactive and find out before you begin. In contrast, gigs like reading email, watching movies or previews, testing products or mystery shopping tend to have less structured time frames.

DO have reasonable expectations. It’s unrealistic to expect to earn the mother-load for survey participation. You may occasionally be invited to screen for a survey or focus group with a higher payout, but they are very few and far between. Better to take the “buckshot approach” and fire off as many surveys as you qualify for.