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SPSS Promotes Self By Trash Talking Internet Survey Research

SPSS recently put out a news release (which has been picked up by at least two news sites CRM Today and TMCnet) whose sole purpose appears to be to scare companies away from using the plethora of survey research tools in favor of their multi-modal survey system. How can you begin to know what your customers are thinking, reasons the release, if you only ask those who are online when hardly anyone is even using the Internet these days?

“Web-based surveys may appear to be less intrusive and easier to conduct, but without pen and paper or a good ‘old-fashioned’ telephone, organizations miss the opinions of many, including those without a computer, the forever and selectively computer illiterate and a large part of the senior population that simply missed the tech revolution.”

The release goes on to remind everyone that paper and phone survey are “in many cases essential, if organizations expect to present clients with the most accurate and complete view of customer attitutes and opinions.”

It then proves its point by referring to a recent Pew report:

“In fact, the Pew Internet & American Life Project recently found 49 percent of Americans only occasionally use modern gadgetry and many others bristle at electronic connectivity — the Internet.”

Wow. Who would have thought that in 2007 more than half of the US population either doesn’t use and/or extremely dislikes the Internet. We all may need to rethink our online programs and go back to the phone banks, door-to-door solicitors and shopping malls many of us have mostly abandoned.

…but before we do, here are some stats not included in the SPSS release:

  • Total US population is about 300 million people with 225 million of them over the age of 17. (US Census)
  • There are 178.8 million web users in the US (comScore, June 2007)
  • 71% of all adults are online (Pew)
  • 87% of 18-24 year olds, 83% of 30-49 year olds, 65% of those 50-64 and 32% of those over 65 are online. (Pew)
  • 73% of white, 62% of black, and 78% of English-speaking Hispanic are online. (Pew)
  • 73% of people living in Urban/Surburban Environments and 60% living in rural areas are online. (Pew)
  • 93% of those earning $75K+, 82% of those earning $50K-$74K, 69% of those earning $30K-$49K and 55% of those earning less than $30K are online. (Pew)
  • Total number of households is 105.4 million (US Census)
  • Almost 70% of US households have Internet access at home.  (Leichtman Research Group Q1 2007)
  • 53% of US households have high-speed access (Leichtman Research Group Q1 2007)

The Pew study that SPSS refers to in their release is called “A Typology of Information and Communication Technology User.” The study measures not whether or not people have internet access (as implied by SPSS) but instead tries to categorize people by the degree to which information and communication technologies are utilized and enjoyed.

According to the report, only 15% of the population can be characterized as “Off the Network” — that is, individuals with neither cell phones nor internet connectivity. They tend to be in their mid-60s, nearly three-fifths are women. Only 7% have college degrees (vs. the US average of 27%) and only 4% earn over $75K a year (vs. the US average of 22%). They are the heaviest users of “old media” such as radio and TV but do not have the inclination to try new information and communication technology.

Obviously, not everyone is online and if you’re looking for a particularly special group you may want to revert to paper, pencils and phones. However, I’m thinking that for most purposes you’re going to be able to find who you’re looking for online.

But the implication of the SPSS release is that unless you use (expensive) multi-channel research techniques (provided by them?) you will be collecting bad information and misleading your clients. This isn’t true and is in fact extremely misleading.

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