We attempted to survey 41 fish producers in Vietnam and got zero responses. Here’s what we learned.
Vietnam is the fourth-biggest producer of finfish worldwide. During our initial scoping visits, we found several common farming practices that infringe upon fish welfare in Vietnam.
To further explore the welfare constraints present on Vietnamese fish farms, we attempted to gather data from farmers through a voluntary survey sent directly to their company’s public email. Our intention was to find and use a cost-efficient way to remotely source survey results about on-the-ground conditions. Local advocates had voiced concerns about the effectiveness of email surveys and encouraged us to test out their assumptions.
We found a public list of Vietnamese fish farms that are BAP and/or ASC certified, then searched for the companies’ email addresses online. The emails were typically of the format info@xxx or customerservice@xxx.
We then developed a google survey with 21 questions. Our Vietnamese-speaking friend from the Humane Society International, Trang Dang, kindly translated the survey for us (Thank you, Trang!). The survey took roughly 5-10 minutes to complete.
We contacted the 41 companies with an email, in Vietnamese, explaining who we are, what we’re doing, and asking them to fill out the survey in order to help our scoping efforts in Vietnam. The emails were sent from an official FWI Gmail account and we used Mailtrack to monitor the number of recipients opening the email.
We sent 3 emails in total between December 8 of 2020 to February 8 of 2021 (Table 1), and we did not provide remuneration for answering the survey.
Table 1. Overview of emails we sent including content and responses.
The Key Takeaways
Cold emailing aquaculture companies does not seem to be an effective way to gather farm data in Vietnam, as none of the recipients answered.
We got a 32-37% open rate for all rounds but yet none of the people that opened the emails actually answered the survey. It is likely that cold emailing does not reach the farmer him/herself, so the person opening the email (e.g. a secretary) would have to take the extra step to call or forward the email to the farmer. This may not be worth the effort for many.
A more visually appealing HTML email format may or may not help, but in the case of our mini-trial, it did not. The extra 2 opens from our HTML format email were likely incidental.
We shared our results with local advocates in Vietnam and they reinforced our assumption: Most farmers don't have an email, and/or don't check their emails. A far better way of reaching them may be via phone or by visiting them.
If your organization is similarly keen on gathering data through this method, here are some of our suggestions:
Consider adding an incentive to answer the survey. (Note that we have not tried this method and thus do not know whether it would have yielded responses.)
Obtain emails through a government database (e.g., Securities and Exchange Commission) to ensure they are correct.
Reach out to a particular person within the company or institution, rather than a general customer inquiry line, to increase personalization.
Consider a different survey format, as it may be more effective (e.g., phone survey, Surveymonkey).