Online Marketing Research Panels, Part 1

An online survey panel is a collection of individuals who have expressed interest in and have agreed to periodically participate in online surveys. Companies who manage the panels retain and manage these individuals� contact information to administer their own surveys or charge other companies for access to their panel. Because panel members have expressed interest in and have already �signed up� for survey participation, they are much more likely to agree to participate in a given survey than the average individual.

The utilization of online panels is thus especially helpful in situations where response rate is predicted to be low and/or data collection needs to occur quickly. And in these times of declining response rates, online panels are a research tool that definitely deserves consideration. Panels can be especially useful when looking into special respondents, such as physicians, IT decision makers, teens and Hispanics. Specialty panels can often provide your target respondents much more efficiently and cost effectively than general panels or other sample sources, especially combined with their favorable response rate.

However, all panels are not created equal, and choosing the wrong panel company can significantly affect the quality of the data you collect. This month and next, Polaris Marketing Research�s MR Perspectives will help you evaluate whether � and which � online panel is the best for your project. If you are thinking of using a panel company for your data collection needs, we will cover several questions to ask in order to ensure that your project will be completed efficiently and your data will not be compromised.

How are panel members recruited?

There are two types of panel recruitment: open and closed. In open recruitment, members are recruited through broad-based online promotions such as banner ads and pop-ups, and whoever wants to join the panel is able to do so. Open recruitment causes the same problems as any type of convenience sampling. By allowing the respondents to pick themselves, you are introducing self-selection bias into your study, and there is no way to tell whether the results of the study can be projected onto the desired population or just the type of individual who chooses to enlist in an online panel.

In closed recruitment, members are recruited through an invitation only process, typically through solo e-mail invitations, direct mail, or phone recruitment of different sample frames. By allowing the panel company to do the selecting, self-selection bias is limited. Also, the percentage of �professional respondents,� or respondents belonging to multiple panels is reduced. So, if you are conducting a study where the results need to be predictable, a panel with closed recruitment is the optimal choice.

In either case, be sure that the company is telling you how many active respondents they include in their panel. All panels maintain inactive respondents, but if they aren�t active, they won�t be of use to you, so make sure you know what number your panel vendor is quoting.

What about partners?

Most panel vendors, if they do not have enough respondents to meet your needs in a specific survey, will partner with other panel vendors to combine resources. This is a common practice; what is not so common is that your panel company tells you they are doing this and with what other panels. So be sure to ask whether they disclose this, and require them to do so. Further, make sure they are de-duping the panelists to decrease the chance of an individual being able to take the survey more than once.

To be continued�

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