This is an exciting time for communicating with beneficiaries around the world. As more and more messaging apps are ready for integration we can reach more people and in better ways.

Surveys in particular benefit from this: you can make surveys more powerful, cheaper and easier to understand for participants—all at the same time. There is no such thing as a free lunch though, and we’ll talk about the “BUT”, too.

In this blog post I want to show you how two of those chat apps that are up for integration—WhatsApp and Telegram—help you run better surveys. Of course, this integrates neatly with how our surveys at engageSPARK work: you create your social survey using our UI, and the engageSPARK platform takes care of the rest. 


WhatsApp is the latest mobile messaging app that has begun allowing 3rd party integrations. With more than a billion users world-wide, this is a huge opportunity.

Instead of using your phone to contact one WhatsApp contact at a time, you can now use a WhatsApp Business account to reach many at the same time. And while it’s called a “business” account, not-for-profit NGOs can use this same technology to everyone’s benefit.

And engageSPARK WhatsApp Surveys allow you to use what WhatsApp has to offer for your surveys and data collection efforts: text messaging, images, audio messages, video clips, and emojis.



Telegram has long played the role of an underdog in the mobile messaging world, but by now it features a user-base of 400 million.

What’s exciting about Telegram messaging? First, its super low price point. But then, there are also features (like “custom keyboards”) that make surveys so much easier. I’ll explain those below.

Let’s look at the possibilities!

Ask new kinds of questions with images

Images are marvelous when it comes to communication. They allow you to ask new kinds of questions. They also allow us to ask old questions in new ways. Let me explain.

What do you see?

That is now a question you can ask—simple, fast, to thousands of people! Imagine an educational program about Malaria in a rural community. Instead of (or in addition to!) limited ground work you could now do a survey showing pictures and asking to identify the symptom, giving feedback on wrong answers.

You can turn this around, too: Show three pictures of a mosquito net arranged around a bed, and ask the participant to identify the image with the correct setup. Impossible to do with text-only!

The third thing images allow you to do is ask questions in written languages that are not supported well enough on phones: you can write the question in the image. This means you can reach even more people, being inclusive at scale as was never possible before. 

What about MMS?

Now, you might say: hey, wasn’t there something like MMS? Can’t we do this already? The answer is: theoretically yes, but really no.

Apart from being prohibitively expensive, MMS are not widely available, especially not at scale. So while in some developing and emerging markets you can—for a hefty chunk of cash—send a picture via MMS from your phone, this is not something that you usually could scale in any meaningful way.

Add some fun—with emojis

Emojis, the love story of the 2010s, have finally arrived in the survey space through those chat apps. Why are they awesome for surveys in particular? Here are the top 3 reasons:

  • They loosen up the drudge and dread of pure text-surveys and add a bit of fun. That’s so important to manage attention.
  • They lend your questions nuance, clarifying them on an emotional level.
  • You can even use them as answers to a question: how does this image make you feel: Happy (😁), Sad (😢), Angry (😡)—similarly to how Filipino news site Rappler does it. (See the example.)

Note that Emojis are of course available in SMS as well—but using them means you’ll be sending “Unicode” SMS, which are more than twice as expensive as normal SMS. This makes the use of emojis unfeasible.

Cut down on false responses with tap-a-button questions (Telegram only)

What’s THE pain point with text-based surveys?

Yes! Incorrect answers. Making sure that people know how to reply is such a big deal that we dedicated a separate post just to that problem.


Let’s look at this example SMS:

How often did you eat cabbage over the last 7 days?.

a) every day
b) 4-6 days
c) 1-3 days
d) never
e) I don’t know

Please answer A, B, C D, or E

If you ever ran an SMS Survey you won’t be surprised to learn that replies even from people who want to reply correctly, might include anything from “3”, “3 times”, “c)” or “dunno, maybe 3-4” ?

How do you handle this? You have two options. First, you should try to make reasonable guesses as to what someone might reply. But you can’t conceive of all possible replies, so you also need error responses which explain the expected ways to reply.

This is bad for a couple of reasons:

  • People lose patience and quit the survey early. (Another problem of managing attention.)
  • You spend money sending those error replies.
  • If participants have to spend money to send SMS, (which they should not) then they’ll become impatient quicker.

Now, the money-related problems are reduced with WhatsApp, since messaging there is fundamentally cheaper than with SMS. But in this instance Telegram easily takes the crown with polls and custom keyboards.

How Telegram crushes it (with polls and custom keyboards)

Polls allow you to ask a multiple choice question. Here, it’s easier to see it:

You just tap on your choice—no chance to tap an invalid choice. Sometimes such a public poll is not the right thing. It gets even better though.

Normally people would see their normal keyboard in a chat, right? The problem is, this allows them to type anything, including a million replies you did not anticipate. But in Telegram, there is a better way.  Have a look at the following screenshot:

Telegram allows you to show a keyboard particularly made for this question. And this is hard to get wrong, right?

Exactly as it should be! It’s such an ingenious way to make this entire problem go away—so if you want to run a survey with multiple-choice questions (for easier reporting), then you absolutely should consider if Telegram is an option for you.

Here is the cherry on top: Multiple-choice questions in engageSPARK Surveys can be easily mapped to such a custom keyboard. That means you don’t even need to learn anything new to use this amazing technology! We can do the work for you.

What about voice surveys?

Yes, you are right—custom keyboards are similar to how multiple-choice questions in Voice IVR Surveys work. Here, too, you have a very limited set of options—your keypad—and it’s obvious you cannot type random replies.

Custom keyboards take this to the next level though: the answers you tap on can be fully explanatory, so the respondent really knows what they are replying with.

Inclusive surveys—with audio messages

One beautiful thing about both Telegram and WhatsApp Surveys is that you can ask messages using audio clips. This isn’t just great because of the “human voice” factor. It also allows you to run an inclusive survey that reaches more people—even people who cannot read.

Didn’t quite hear the message? No problem—play the clip again. Participants can listen to the question as many times as they want, with no extra cost to them or you. Participants can even reply by recording short clips, which completes the circle. As with Voice IVR, this allows you to capture their mood, and obviously allows illiterate participants to reply at all.

There is a catch, though: if replies are audio clips, this usually also means that we cannot determine in an automated fashion if the participant answered correctly. 

Audio clips are not yet pervasive, so to be fair this approach might need some explanatory text to encourage people to listen to the clip. Ask us if you need help to craft those messages.

And yes, the inclusiveness of voice is already possible—with Voice IVR Surveys. There are a few differences though that I’ll explore in a future post.

Cheap Messages with Whatsapp and Telegram

I hinted at this earlier: Reaching out to beneficiaries at scale using messaging apps such as Whatsapp or Telegram is cheap! WhatsApp surveys are typically 2-3 times cheaper than SMS surveys and, depending on the country, can be as much as 7 times cheaper.

But as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. 

Reliable Internet access—the biggest hurdle for mobile messengers

All those apps need one thing: Internet access. That means a smartphone, that means reliable phone network and that often also means data bundles. Additionally, if you want to take advantage of powerful features such as images and audio clips, then even more data is used.

That is a problem in the social space, where NGOs by nature try to reach people who usually do not have access to all the best technology.

WhatsApp has the advantage of being part of the big Facebook family, which means it’s often included in free or subsidized bundles by carriers. That’s usually not true for Telegram.

One way to help beneficiaries participate is by sending them airtime bundles—or even better: data bundles—so at least the monetary problem is removed. You can automatically dispense small amounts of data or airtime using the engageSPARK platform, for example when beneficiaries sign up for a survey.

All in all, before even starting a survey at scale with messaging apps it’s important to consider the Internet access issue. Ask us, if you have questions about how to run an inclusive survey.


  • Messaging apps offer exciting new opportunities for inclusive surveys
  • WhatsApp and Telegram are two candidates that you should consider when planning your next survey. Ask us for a Whatsapp Demo now!
  • Viber and Weechat are other exciting, upcoming options.
  • Images allow to ask new kinds of questions, and even to write questions in languages not supported in mobile phones.
  • Audio clips allow to use the “human voice” factor, even in a messenger chat, and can expand your survey’s reach to illiterate people.
  • Emojis are finally cheaply available, both for questions and for replies.
  • Messaging at scale with WhatsApp and Telegram is cheap—but does rely on reliable Internet access.
  • Sending airtime topups and data bundles to beneficiaries can help with this.