Customer surveys are a great way for online marketers to plumb the depths of their customers’ psyches, but the importance of drafting every question on a survey with sensitivity and tact came to the forefront when a leading game company found that its recent poll unexpectedly fanned the flames of online haters. How do you make sure that your next survey gathers the information you need while not damaging your brand by infuriating your consumer base?

A public relations disaster of unimaginable intensity

The March 2013 launch of the newest entry into the SimCity gaming dynasty was marked by a public relations disaster of nearly unimaginable intensity for publisher EA as nearly a million users raged against overtaxed servers which wouldn’t let them play for hours or even days at a time, and the inexplicable splicing on of a shared gameplay on what has always been a solo game. The online uprising over this game was largely responsible for EA being named “The Worst Company In America” (which is really saying something these days).

The survey asked whether users wanted the changes

Nearly half a year after the debacle, EA circulated a survey among some of its players where they essentially asked whether they would be interested in seeing the exact same changes in the game play which hundreds of thousands of them, as well as nearly every single reviewer of the game, had been requesting all along. The ability to run the game offline and create large cities had been a feature of the previous SimCity games and it was the drastic change to forced online play and postage stamp cities which created the customer fury in the first place.

The number of negative online posts exceed the number of users

Needless to say, the survey itself was widely criticized due to the callousness of EA in apparently failing to comprehend the loud and clear consumer sentiment which was blasted in their direction on every social media channel in the known galaxy. The number of posts online complaining about these very same factors actually exceed the number of total SimCity games sold, therefore how could a survey circulated among a limited number of current players provide data which differed from the readily available vitriol? What EA managed to do was to compile a survey which essentially telegraphed to its customer base that even though so many of you are foaming at the mouth, do you really want those changes?

Anthony Weiner surveying constituents about his sexting

This utter lack of comprehension of the prevailing mood of EA’s users triggered an entirely new round of online bashing. In the final analysis the flamers weren’t really out of line, as asking survey questions about aspects of a company policy which has been so widely lambasted was seen as pouring salt in the wound of the user base. Some pundits compared it to Anthony Weiner surveying his New York City constituents as to whether he’d be more electable as mayor if he finally stopped sexting.

Your followers are telling you how your brand is performing

The fundamental basis of brand social media participation is to listen. Your customer base is providing you with an extremely accurate minute by minute assessment of how your brand is performing. You’re not doing anyone any favors by turning a deaf ear to your comments or just discounting a mass of negative reaction as the belly aching knee jerk reactions of a bunch of junior sized ankle biting malcontents, or any other anatomical metaphors you may want to come up with.

Your surveys should be developed to gain insight into detailed factors of your brand strategy, not to belabor the obvious. If you’re performing your social media duties properly then you already have access to the big picture information and you don’t need to insult your customers with a survey which leads them to scream “what the #$%& do you think we’ve been telling you all along?” Leverage your customer surveys to supplement the information you’re gaining through your social media presences and you’ll avoid the latest disastrous misstep of the worst company in America.