There’s nothing more valuable than market, customer, and competitive intelligence when it comes to making fact-based decisions. Capturing this information often requires conducting research. A number of our customers have asked us about using an online research panels and how to recruit panel members.

Many companies are exploring establishing their own in-house research panel as a way to access a set of pre-qualified people willing to participate in surveys on an as needed basis. A research panel may serve as a good way for your organization  conduct more research faster with a higher response rate.  You know the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” One of the most important steps in research is acquiring good data from the right sample.  These tips will help ensure your panel has the right members.

Research panels can provide an excellent means for capturing customer insights

Research panels can provide an excellent means for capturing customer insights

Establish Your Own Research Panel with These Five Tips

1. Actively Manage Your Panels: There are two types of panels: database-driven which is essentially a repository of email addresses and those that are actively managed where panel members opt-in and receive invitations to participate in online research studies. Actively-managed panels have been shown to produce higher response rates and data quality.

2.Qualify Panel Members: Experts typically rely on two methodologies to recruit panel members: open source recruitment which allows for anyone with access to the Internet to enroll and by invitation only (closed) where only pre-validated individuals can participate. Finding and securing panel participants that match your criteria is probably the most essential quality component.  Locating respondents who are genuine, qualified and willing to share their opinions is a challenge since there are many platforms competing for those interested in taking surveys.

3.Reward Participation: The type of compensations if also an important consideration, because the type of rewards and proposition could influence the type of people who agree to answer a questionnaire or join a specific panel and can therefore influence sample quality. Panel providers utilize two primary methods for incentive fulfillment: guaranteed cash/reward incentive or sweepstakes prize drawing. Cash/reward incentives are awarded upon survey completion. The sweepstakes incentive method awards respondents by entering their name into a prize drawing for completing a survey. Prize drawings are done periodically and the number of eligible contestants varies. Guaranteed cash/reward incentives have been proven to yield higher response rates.

4.Manage contact frequency: For quality responses, limit the number of times a panel member is invited to participate in a survey over a given period of time.

5.Use a panel management system: Whether you are establishing your own panel or relying on a panel provider, use a quality management system that will identify and eliminate duplicate members, detect fraudulent respondents at the time of registration, and to guard against bad data.

Whether you decide to create your own online panel or use a third party,an extended and up-to-date profile data will increase your marketing effectiveness. A panel with extensive targeting is probably a more viable approach when trying to reach low-incidence or hard-to-reach groups.

Going the Commercial Research Panel Route

If you decide your own research panel is not an option, consider using a commercial research panel. Commercial research panels can provide fast, cost-effective access to the research participants. Not all panel providers are equally careful in their recruitment efforts. If you decide to use a commercial panel for customer research, be sure to find out the answers to these questions.

Questions for Evaluating a Commercial Research Panel

  • Member Source: What is the source of panel members? Does the panel provider recruit members from social networks or specialty interest groups, advertising, etc.?
  • Member Recruitment: Ask the panel provider what types of questions they use to screen and select panel participants. Does the panel check to make sure the IP address for the member actually matches their listed geography? Does the panel verify that the responses are entered by a human being and not a computer program? Are participants checked for membership in other panels? What limits are imposed regarding multiple memberships? Does the provider examine whether the responses of the new panelist are actually plausible so that a person claiming to be a surgeon cannot record “high school” as his or her highest educational degree?
  • Member Screening: How does the panel screen for response quality? You will want to know how the panel provider keeps participants from repeatedly taking the same survey, or stuffing the ballot box so to speak. For example, do they distribute unique links? There are a variety of ways panel providers can address this questions so ask what approach(es) they employ. How do they manage for people who race through surveys or choose the same answer (rating or option) for every question? What guarantee do they make that the results represent your target audience? Ask your panel providers how they insure the results are representative of your target.
  • Member Compensation: How does the panel provider compensate participants? Good panels will offer some form of individual compensation for each completed survey. Some panels pay cash, others use a point systems (similar to airline mileage programs) to reward respondents and credit a certain number of points for each completed survey which panelists can then exchange for merchandise or gift cards. Point-based systems require a little more commitment, they tend attract more valuable respondents. Be wary of panel providers who refuse to tell you how participants are rewarded.
  • Usage Frequency: How frequently are panelists contacted? Good panel providers don’t unduly tax their panelists. They contact them regularly enough to keep them active and engaged but no so often they become fatigued. A maximum of about two contacts a week is a good rule of thumb. On the other end, members should be invited to complete something at least once a month to keep them engaged. If there is no client survey to fill out, good panels will use this as an opportunity to conduct additional screening surveys for members, like asking which mobile device they currently use to increase the chances that they will be needed for a future survey.

While commercial research panels can provide fast, cost-effective access to the research participants, securing panel participants is a critical step for this approach. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

Need more expertise and experience in conducting research and transforming data into actionable insights? We’d love to help! Check out our work.

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