4 Tips for Panel Building Success

By Lisa Wilding-Brown

It’s a no brainer that panel building is more important than ever before. Good recruitment tactics, effective survey routing and strong communication with panel respondents are all vital elements in producing quality data. Here are four of the most typical problem areas and how they can be approached.

Diversification of Recruitment Channels

Diverse recruitment ensures a more representative panel, providing not only greater flexibility, but ensuring a better ability to fulfill hard to reach audience requests. We take this seriously and recruit from a spectrum of sources, including both online and offline publishers, social networks like Facebook, web and SMS databases, advertising networks, and through television ad placement.

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Having a panel that draws from across the cultural landscape ensures it is much easier to match the census templates needed to build a representative sample for a given target population.

Improving the Signup Experience 

Panel respondents are more than just a tool, and while there are certainly panels that forget that, the strongest are those that build relationships from first contact. That means:

  • Detailed collection of data during the recruitment process.
  • Easy to use interface that immediately engages panel members.
  • Use of diverse technologies and mobile friendly templates.
  • Easy access to membership status, helpdesk access, and subscription controls from a single login.
  • Clear explanation of compensation, rewards, and frequency of invites.

The goal here is to recruit a partner who will feel part of a team, not like a faceless cog completing surveys for much larger companies. 

Adjusting for Professional Respondents

This isn’t a new problem. As early as 1978, Dillman’s Mail and Telephone Surveys research showed professional respondent impacts. More recent studies, like the Nera Economic Consulting report in 2013 dove into what makes certain respondents different than others and whether these more dedicated and active survey participants are actually better or worse for a panel. The Nera report summarized nine studies of demographics and showed that professional respondents tended to be more often female, have slightly less educational background and generally were more engaged, checking email more often.

These professional respondents are part of what fueled the incredible growth in the industry the last 20 years, but they also create a very real problem. While professional respondents are generally more engaged overall, they also tend to provide shorter, less thought out answers, skew high on brand satisfaction, usage and awareness, and aim to get through surveys as quickly as possible – generally inattentive.

All this crossover between panels, combined with reduced engagement rates and noncommittal answers can skew results in studies, which is why it’s important to check for these respondents with a well-constructed source testing methodology that looks at demographics, behavioral and attitudinal characteristics among sources, all while comparing to well known, established benchmarks. 

Survey Invitation and Compensation

Panel members should receive frequent communications. Innovate sends an email 3-5 times per week to panel members based on surveys for which they are qualified. Using a deep well of email templates with varied language to reach them in the way that works best, we keep people as engaged as possible without overloading them. 

Non-leading headlines that avoid false qualification, specified language matching, and concise messaging ensure that respondents can quickly and easily determine if a survey is a good fit and jump in, without potential issues.

The other big trick is incentives. How do you reward panel members for their time in a way that feels substantial? For our efforts, we use a matrix that matches incentives to members based on length of a survey, complexity of the tasks requested, and other factors.

It’s tricky to maintain a good balance that won’t lead to negative panel learning effects when it comes to panel rewards, but with our matrix and a virtual currency for all qualifying and non-qualifying activities, we’re able to offer something desirable but consistent to all participants.

Leading the Drive for True Quality in Sample

It’s not just about finding the right people – it’s about engaging and building a relationship while implementing the technology needed to identify the right people. At the same time, a good panel needs to be carefully built with an understanding of the types of people who generally participate, using established benchmarks.

The sample company that does this provides true quality, while ensuring they can meet the unique requirements of even the most demanding market research needs.