ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Smartphone Apps and User Engagement: Collecting Data in the Digital Era

Michael W Link

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 1 - Law Building, Room 024
Date: 2012-07-11 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-16


We provide one of the first detailed assessments of smartphone applications as potential replacements for more traditional survey methods. Smartphone applications (or “apps”) provide researchers with a range of ready-made tools to collect both customary and new forms of data in a more reliable manner than self-reports, such as location, visual data, barcode scanning, in the moment surveys, and the like. Yet unlike traditional surveys, respondents have greater experience with and expectations of smartphone apps, such as ease of use, speed, and functionality. Researchers need, therefore, to pay more attention to user engagement. Techniques such as “gamification” (the application of sociological and psychological principles that drive successful game interaction to measurement) and “social sharing” (allowing respondents to interact with others during the course of measurement) are two examples, which have only recently begun to be applied to data collection.

Examining these and related issues, we report on a study in which a smartphone app was developed to capture television viewing behaviors and to serve as a replacement for a current paper-and-pencil (PAPI) diary survey approach. The app captures the critical data elements collected in the PAPI version, but also allows users to express their views on current shows via a rating scale, comments, and “likes.” The app also contains additional features designed to enhance user engagement, including a points & status system and allowing respondents to share their viewing and comments with others using the app or with their Facebook network.

We discuss some of the challenges encountered in developing a smartphone application to replace a long-standing PAPI approach, and provide empirical data tracking data entry, feature use and overall compliance by respondents. Additionally, using a split-sample design, with one set of respondents utilizing a “basic” app with no gamification and social sharing features and another set of respondents using a “full feature” app, we assess the impact of these techniques for enhancing user engagement in terms of increased participation and any changes in television viewing behaviors (a potentially negative consequence). The findings are of interest not only to those developing other forms of smartphone applications or leveraging ready-made app utilities, but more broadly to the survey field in terms of our understanding of how to engage with respondents in a technology-driven world.