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Surveys, data, polls. We love them.

The hit TV show 8 of 10 Cats has taught us that the thing that most annoys men is someone hiding the remote control, most of the general public would prefer to date a gymnast than a footballer and 60% of air passengers had a problem with their seat.

In the US Election, Barack Obama’s persistent advantage in the polls helped blunt Mitt Romney’s attempt to build a ‘momentum’ narrative.

Businesses too, can learn a lot from polls. Polls can help focus internal discussion around what the public feels rather than what the business believes the public is feeling. They can also provide terrific PR hooks for external comms.

New internet apps offer the ability to run polls at scale and use the power of social media to make surveying more affordable and with a greater reach than ever before. Software is eating the world. Here are four of our top picks:

Survey Monkey and Poll Daddy

If you fancy following in the footsteps of Samsung, Philips, Audi, Nokia, Microsoft, BBC and IBM, your business could create a survey on websites such as Survey Monkey or Poll Daddy.

The big advantage here is scale – businesses can obtain vast amounts of quantitative data in a short amount of time. The weakness is qualitative data – if you’re thinking of tweaking parts of your business rather than gathering huge gobbets of data, the emphasis on quant could hurt.

LinkedIn

At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Linkedin dicussion boards. This is a newer idea, but it has quickly become one of the most popular parts of Linkedin.

Businesses can post a question to the public, who can either make a direct response, or “upvote” an existing answer. Upvoting in particular helps use the “wisdom of the crowds” to your advantage.

Linkedin’s big advantage is in helping you gather qualitative data and easily evaluate the information you have been given. However, there is a clear sample bias towards people with a Linkedin account (and people who may not be in your target market anyway). Some Linkedin questions also turn into digital ghost towns, failing to garner any responses at all.

Uservoice

Uservoice is a fresh attempt to look at the polling question through the lens of customer satisfaction. Companies answer questions posed by customers, getting a better idea of what the business should tweak or improve straight from the horses mouth (so to speak).

This may be useful for startups who are still refining their offer, but the sample size can be small and lack specificity.

Quora

Ah Quora. Some people will say it is the best thing since sliced bread and a great way to grow your reputation, others will tell you it is insular, cliquey and narrowly focused. Your mileage may vary.

The great benefit of Quora is that it organises people into groups of interests, professions and other subheadings so the business targets certain people. It can be an incredibly powerful tool for highly targeted results, and the quality of responses can be very high.

These are four ways for your business to use polling methods. Don’t forget, there may already be good information within your business or on the web. Talk to us about a listening and monitoring training session to find what people are already saying about your business on the web! Happy polling!