How We Got People to Actually Want to Give Us Their Data

I’m fascinated by the ways people use their data, and that’s why I built a mobile app called MyDataHelps to help others do so. In the process of building this app, I did a ton of user testing. 

One thing that stood out to me was how difficult it is for people to complete surveys or forms on mobile devices. The experience isn’t optimized at all; you’re often typing in answers on an iPhone screen that’s only four inches wide while trying not to make any typos. 

This made me realize: that if we want people to complete our surveys or forms or give us their data in any way we need to provide them with an easy and pleasant experience. So here are some tips based on my mobile research:

The Data CEOs And Workers Need To Know – YouTube
1. Building trust is essential for data collection.
2. Providing value and benefits to users encourages data sharing.
3. Transparency about data usage fosters user confidence.
4. Personalized experiences can motivate individuals to share data.
5. Clear communication on data security helps alleviate concerns.
6. Successful data collection aligns with user preferences.
7. Data-driven insights enhance decision-making and strategy.
8. Tailored approaches acknowledge individual privacy concerns.
9. Ethical data practices contribute to long-term user relationships.
10. Continuous engagement maintains user willingness to share data.

Don’t Ask For More Data Than You Need

Don’t ask for more than you can use. If there’s a chance you may take the time to use it later, that’s fine. If not, don’t collect it.

Don’t ask for more than you can make sense of (or make relevant). This includes having a good grasp on how your audience uses their devices and what they do with them; knowing who they are as people; 

Being able to anticipate their needs, interests, and concerns; understanding why they would give this information up, and being able to adapt your approach accordingly to name just a few examples!

Don’t ask for more than you can protect and ensure these measures work in practice by testing regularly against real-world threats like phishing or man-in-the-middle attacks (MITM). 

Asking customers why they would trust us with their data without first answering these questions ourselves is simply asking too much from many organizations today: 

We’ve got our problems keeping our systems secure enough from outside attackers let alone worrying about protecting customer info!

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Keep Your Data Requests Simple, And Relate Them To The Rest Of Your Application

We learned that you can’t ask people for their data just because it’s useful, or even because they’d “get something out of it.” We needed to give them a reason that connected with their interests and motivations.

We also found out that requesting the right data elements was key. You don’t want to ask for anything you don’t need, or anything that could be misinterpreted by your users (for example, asking if someone is over 18 years old instead of if they’re over 21 years old).

Lastly, we learned that asking for too much information will turn off users from giving us what we want and in some cases may even violate privacy laws.

Give Users A Reason To Participate

People are more likely to share their data if they feel like it will be used for something meaningful.

Reward the user for participating.

If you can give your users some kind of immediate reward for giving you their data, they’ll be more likely to participate than if there is no reward or benefit at all.

Give the user a sense of purpose and ownership in the project they are contributing to through their data.

This is an extension of “give them a reason” above, however, instead of just making your users feel like what they are doing has value outside themselves (i.e., “we need this information so that we can improve our product/service”).

Try making them feel like what they are doing has value inside themselves (i.e., “I want my voice heard! 

This is important knowledge I am sharing with everyone! I want people to see me as an expert on this topic because I have so much knowledge about it). This can help produce more engaged users who take pride in being experts; which leads us to our next point…

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Provide An Opt-Out Option

Make sure people feel like they can choose not to participate, and that you don’t make them feel bad for choosing not to participate.

Don’t use the opt-out as a way to get more data by defaulting all users into the program without their explicit consent.

Ask Questions Dynamically With Radio Buttons And Checkboxes

When you have a set of mutually exclusive options, use radio buttons. When you have a set of options that can be selected more than once, use checkboxes.

For example, if you want to ask someone how many times they’ve been to your favorite restaurant in the last two years and whether or not they’d like to receive coupons from them (and optionally why), as well as their name and email address:

Give Users A Way To Indicate That They Don’t Know The Answer To A Question

If you are asking for a date, you can use an input field for the date. If you don’t want to limit your users’ options, there’s no need to do so by limiting their text fields or checkboxes. 

I recommend using free-text fields and allowing them to enter any value they want in those fields (for example, if they’re filling out their birthday). If there is no right answer, then why force someone into giving one?

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Let Users Indicate That An Answer Is No Longer Applicable Or Used To Be True But Isn’t Anymore

When users mark a response as no longer applicable or used to be true but aren’t anymore, it removes that question from their profile. This is important for people who don’t want to answer a particular question (for example, if they had something removed from their body).

The best way to indicate that an answer is no longer applicable or used to be true but isn’t anymore is with checkboxes and radio buttons. You can also use dropdowns and text boxes if you want users to select the reason they are marking their answers as such.

If your site uses comment boxes, make sure users can see how they’re supposed to use them when responding.

Allow Users To Provide Free-Form Answers

In addition to the standard data points, you must give users a way to provide free-form answers. At Hootsuite, we did this in two ways:

  • Allow users to write their answers
  • Provide a box for them to write in

It’s also worth thinking about what kind of questions you want people to answer so that your survey is most useful. 

For example, if you’re trying to find out more about how people feel about your brand or product and get feedback on new features, then asking them how they feel will probably be more effective than asking them if they’d like certain things changed.

Set Expectations About How Long You Expect People To Spend On Your App

You might think it’s a good idea to set expectations about how long you expect people to spend on your app before they leave. That way, if they don’t get what they need from the app in that time frame, they’re more likely to come back later or try another app.

But this isn’t true at least not for most apps. We found that the longer our users spent with our product (and therefore the more time we had invested in getting them there).

The less likely it was that those same users would return once their initial goal had been accomplished. 

The reason: It’s harder for someone who has already completed a task once to remember why he came back when he did; thus, even if he does return, his motivation may be too low (he finished what he needed!).

Or too high (what could be left?) to make him stay longer than expected or desired. In summary: Don’t set expectations around how much time people will spend on your website!

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Request Permissions Upfront (For Android)

For Android, we decided to take a different approach. We decided that we would only ask for permissions when the user first downloaded our app. 

We didn’t want people to have to wait until they had already started using our app or given us their data before deciding what permissions we could have.

Asking for permission upfront gives users confidence that you’ve asked for permission, so they’re more likely to just agree with what you’ve requested instead of going through five pages of settings on their phone looking for where they can deny your request outright.

It also makes it easier for them if they decide later on that they want something else from your app they won’t have to go through all those settings again!

Use Photos As Data Wherever Possible

  • Photos are easy to collect
  • Photos can be used for data that is hard to collect
  • Photos can be used for data that is hard to verify
  • Photos can be used for data that is hard to store
  • Photos can be used for data that is hard to display

Build-in error recovery; or use tools that do it automatically for you (for example, form tools like Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and Qualtrics)

Another Way You Can Help People Get Through A Survey Is To Build In Error Recovery

For example, if someone has already answered a question, they will be asked if they want to skip this question or continue with their answers. 

They’ll only get this option when they answer that yes, they do want to skip the question if you do it too often or don’t let them skip at all, users will get annoyed and just quit your survey!

If you’re using a tool like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey (or whatever else), it should have its built-in error recovery that allows users to skip questions and still submit their responses. 

If not, consider using something like Form Builder by Formstack or SurveyGizmo’s Advanced Completion feature instead of plain old HTML forms; 

These tools allow you greater flexibility with how your form looks and works while also providing useful features.

Don’t Make People Hate Giving You Their Data

If your company is asking people to share their data, you need to give them a reason why. If you can’t do that, then don’t ask for it.

Don’t make people feel like they are being used. Take their data, use it for your purposes, and then leave them behind.

Don’t make people feel like they are being tracked. Knowing that some entity has access to all your online activity is creepy and unnerving enough; 

Just let them know what information you’re collecting from them so they can decide if they want to continue engaging with your brand or not (and if so, how). 

Remember: You wouldn’t go around tapping into someone’s phone calls without their permission, so don’t try doing the same digitally either!

Don’t make people feel like they are being spied on or manipulated by the companies with whom they interact regularly.

And especially by those who have an interest in targeting ads at specific demographics based on behavioral patterns detected using vast amounts of personal data points collected over time via digital touchpoints across multiple devices owned by different users within one household.

(or even multiple households) under which individuals may be identified as part of broader communities sharing similar traits such as income bracket level relative position within market segments defined by location type residential status etcetera…

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Although the high quality of your data is the ultimate goal, it’s also important to focus on getting as much of it as possible. 

You’re going to have a much easier time doing that if you pay attention to the quality of the user experience, and make gathering data feel useful and rewarding for users. 

That way, people will be more likely to participate without even thinking about it (which makes us wonder: is that a good thing?).

Further Reading

Explore these resources for more insights on data collection and customer engagement:

Using Customer Data to Provide Value: Discover how to leverage customer data for improving customer experience and offering valuable solutions. Read the article on using customer data to actually help customers from Harvard Business Review.

Effective Data Collection Methods: Enhance your understanding of data collection techniques and methods with this comprehensive guide: Data Collection Methods by JotForm. Learn how to gather information efficiently for informed decision-making.

Encouraging Data Sharing: Learn strategies to encourage individuals to willingly share their data for mutually beneficial outcomes. Explore the insights provided in the blog post: How to Get People to Share Data by Panoply.


How can customer data be used to enhance customer experience?

Customer data provides valuable insights into customer preferences and behaviors, enabling businesses to tailor their offerings and interactions accordingly. This personalization enhances the customer experience and fosters loyalty.

What are some effective methods for collecting data?

Effective data collection involves a variety of methods such as surveys, online forms, interviews, and analyzing existing sources. Each method has its strengths and can be chosen based on the type of data required and the target audience.

How can businesses encourage individuals to share their data?

Businesses can establish trust by being transparent about how data will be used and ensuring data security. Offering clear benefits to individuals, such as personalized experiences or relevant recommendations, can motivate data sharing.

What role does data analysis play in utilizing collected data?

Data analysis transforms raw data into actionable insights. By analyzing trends, patterns, and correlations, businesses can make informed decisions, identify opportunities, and refine their strategies.

How can data privacy concerns be addressed while collecting customer data?

Respecting data privacy is crucial. Businesses should adhere to relevant regulations, obtain consent, and implement robust security measures to protect collected data from unauthorized access or misuse.