Earlier this month I posted a blog on how to tap into social media to get informal opinions from your followers, sort of like your own focus group.  Taking it a step further, there are a variety of ways to solicit more structured input  — and none involve printing and sending a paper survey  via snail mail to your audience.

A few options that are less expensive and much faster are:

Google Docs   Create simple surveys in Google Docs (docs.google.com) and get the results in spreadsheet format — for free!  You even have the option to brand survey with your logo and colors. 

Survey Monkey  Super easy, use Survey Monkey to email your surveys.  You can quickly create surveys and answers from up to 100 respondents are aggregated.  Also free.  For a small monthly fee you can amp up your surveys with more questions and other features.

Facebook Polls  Facebook makes it easy to add polls or surveys to your Facebook business page.  Use them.

WordPress Widgets   A number of available WordPress widgets and plug-ins can be added to your WordPress website or blog. Check out WP-Polls, Poll Code, Snap Poll, and Vizu.

Use polls to 

Increase engagement with your followers.  Not only are polls are a great way to gather information, you can use use that info to further the discussion.

Spark conversation.  Do you know if your audience thinks the latest Google algorithm will affect their business?  Do your blog subscribers agree with the experts within your industry?   Ask.

Get input from your followers and when the number of responses is more important than speed.  If you are in the process of developing a new product, ask what format they’d prefer — audio, video, text, or multimedia.

You want to gather demographic information about your followers. Want to know how often your followers golf?   Or how your customers feel about your products or services?  What their biggest challenges are?

Surveys are a great way to gather feedback and discover what’s going on with your audience.