Taking surveys for money wasn’t worth it

How does it work? How much money can you really make? Is it a scam? I fill out surveys for a day to see how much I can make. 

Let’s answer a few question:

  • Who makes these surveys?
  • Who are they for?
  • Why do people get paid?
  • How do they work?

Who makes these surveys?

Here’s a secret about companies who sell products and services, including consumer goods, ride sharing, and movies and TV – they rely on consumer feedback.

It’s called market research and comes in a bunch of forms, including focus groups where a random group of people test a product and give feedback to passive feedback systems connected to TVs and computers.

The most common form of market research is surveys – you know asking a big enough group of people a bunch of question and then looking at the results for patterns. Market researchers use these results to tweak products and commercials.

Who are the surveys for?

Companies spend billions every year to figure out which logos are catchier, which flavours are likely to sell, and which movie trailers garner more interest.

Why do people get paid for doing surveys?

Because this info is so valuable, companies will pay people for their time.

To save time and money, like everything else, companies are turning to the web to conduct the research. Surveys are on the of the easiest things to do online.

Surveying 200 people online costs from $2,500 to $5,000. To do this with traditional mail costs twice as much and phone surveys cost three times as much.

How do the surveys work?

There are bunch of sites we’ll get into but they all generally work like this:

  1. You sign up on a survey site
  2. You fill in a profile that asks a bunch of questions to figure out which demographics you fall into. This is important.
  3. You get a list surveys that match your profile – they care about your opinion because of your demographics.
  4. You take the surveys, they vary in length.
  5. Yadayadayada, you eventually get paid. Eventually.

Signing up to Swagbucks

I signed up to the most popular survey site, Swagbucks, and spent a day filling in surveys to see how much money I could make. Swagbucks and the other popular sites aggregate thousands of surveys and try to match them to survey takers. They’re the middle man, like Uber is with people who have cars and people who need a ride.

Payout comes in a few forms, including gift cards and PayPal payments, and they’re usually point based – earn enough points and cash out, a lot like Chuck E Cheese. Swagbucks also pays out for other things, like using their coupons, watching videos, and even installing and running apps on your phone.

The most important part of the process that determines how much money you make is your profile. This is usually an intake survey, but some companies will even request a video interview.

Market researchers don’t care about all of our opinions about all things. They care if the categorize you as a potential buyer or voter.

For example, a company who does marketing for retirement communities probably doesn’t care about my opinion. I found out a lot of companies don’t care about my opinion.

Let’s make some money, maybe

To take surveys, you need to qualify. This means answering a bunch of questions up front, most of the time, the same questions, over and over. The questions included asking my age, sex, education, profession, marital status, and if I had kids. These questions, by the way, are not the paid portion of the survey.

Because of my demographics, the majority of my day were unpaid. I was disqualified from 4 out of 5 surveys I attempted to take. I spent upwards of 10 minutes trying to get to the surveys themselves.

I got disqualified for all sorts of reasons:

  • Not having purchasing decision power at work
  • Not being a woman
  • Not having COVID-like symptoms

Three survey attempts in and I finally qualified but the survey had met its quota.

It took 5 survey attempts 2 hours later to make 50 points. Including the sign-up bonus, I’m at 200 points, which Swagbucks tells me is 38% of the way there. Whats at 100%? A $3 Amazon gift card.

Another 2 hours in and I’ve barely made progress. It’s a blur of answering the same questions over and over and getting disqualified.

Some surveys don’t have a progress bar to tell you how far in you are. It feels like a casino where there are no windows or clocks to tell you what time of day it is.

I’ve been at this 6 hours now. I’ve made 85 points and am at 45%. 6 hours to be less than half way to a $3 Amazon gift card.

I’m out.

How much money does everyone else make?

I took to Reddit to see how much money everyone else makes. Here’s what I learned:

  • No matter your demographic or profile strength, you will never make minimum wage doing surveys. Hourly earnings range from 40 cents to $2. Couple that with the minimum points to cash out, a lot of time is unpaid – like my experience.
  • Some surveys ask a lot of personal questions, from financial to health. You have no way of knowing how that info is going to be used.
  • Use a new email address for surveys.

But if you stick with it, how much can you make?

  • 50/h a week, $200-250/month. “It was soul-driving and my life until I found a regular job”
  • Using 6 sites, $175/month
  • Using 2 sites, $150-300/month
  • Roughly $23/month

The overall sentiment was that it’s gruelling and sometime depressing doing survey after survey, answering questions with about how strongly you agree or disagree about things you don’t care about.

Can you make money taking surveys?

This is a hobby that sounds too good to be true and turns out to be for most people. There goes my dream sitting in the comfort of my own home in sweatpants with a drink, making money instead of arguing with people on Twitter.

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