Consider the Web the next time you want attendee feedback. I've been involved in a number of surveys in the last several months, ranging from conference evaluations to needs assessments, which have revealed valuable insights into what works on the Web and what doesn't, and made a strong case for the efficiency and flexibility of Web-based surveys.

First, depending on the technical sophistication of your constituency, your potential survey respondents may simply expect it. For technology events, the likelihood is high that attendees, vendors, and members are familiar with working on the Web and they'll expect that event planners will be, too.

Second, Web-based survey forms can be cheaper than traditional paper forms. Although you'll have programming charges with Web forms that you wouldn't have with a paper form, you won't have printing, postage, or reply postage costs. Our experience shows that you can generally expect to spend less overall on form administration by going electronic.

Third, you'll dramatically cut down on data errors and have better control over the quality of data being input by the survey respondent. For example, you can set required fields, meaning that the respondent can't submit the form until a specified field has been filled in. You can also use skip patterns to show respondents certain questions that are linked to responses to earlier questions, e.g., if a respondent has indicated that he's a decision maker, you might then ask about spending authorization limits. If the repondent is not a decision maker, he wouldn't see that second question at all.

The combination of error checking, reasonability checking, and skip patterning can dramatically reduce the costs of cleaning up inaccurate input data. This can be especially helpful when it comes to collecting answers to open-ended questions or comments. Since the respondent types his or her answer directly into the database, the challenge of deciphering handwriting is eliminated.

You also gain by having your respondents input their information directly to your database, so there is no cost of re-entering the data, and no chance for data transcription errors.

Driving Traffic Finally, by putting your survey forms on the Web you'll help drive traffic to your site. We all know that increasing the traffic to our sites is important, especially if we're trying to sell advertising or sponsorships on the site. By combining two tools--e-mail and Web-based survey forms--you can kill two birds with one stone. You draw people to your site, thus introducing them to the rest of the site's content (and increasing your traffic numbers), and at the same time, get the survey information you need.

Begin by broadcasting a merged e-mail (individually addressed to potential respondents) to ask your constituencies to complete your survey. If you include a hyperlink to the Web address of your online survey form in the e-mail, your respondents will be able to click on the hyperlink and go directly to the survey. The form can even be built to recognize the respondents from their e-mail address and thank them by name for having come to the survey page. This combines the immediacy of point-of-sale with the low cost and efficiency of electronic communication. And online surveys can't "get lost." Your survey audience has 24-hour-a-day access to the survey throughout the duration of the data collection period.

The bottom line is that Web surveys work. The Internet is a low-cost, direct, and flexible medium that allows you to collect cleaner information, process it more efficiently, and communicate more quickly, with greater depth, and much more interactively with your audience. /