A Guidebook to Online Panels for Surveys

An online panel is a group of pre-screened individuals who participate in surveys. This guidebook provides tips and best practices for using online panels.

Author

Tanvi Moitra

Date

March 24, 2023

The total number of internet users globally stood at 4.9 billion in 2021, almost two-thirds of the global population. Imagine if you could leverage this and access such a global audience for your consumer research without spending a penny on travel!

Consumer Research has become a necessity in today’s day and age. But the COVID-19-led pandemic severely impacted offline consumer research. As if physically reaching out to your target audience for insights was not already time-consuming and economically draining.

Online Panels have become a convenient and efficient method to collect survey data. The concept of online panels is simple. Respondents are recruited online based on a set of criteria, and once they qualify, they take a bunch of surveys. Brands then use these responses to analyse and derive actionable insights.

According to Knowledge Sourcing Intelligence, the global online survey market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 16% through 2026.

There are three reasons online panels have gained prominence- they are 1) faster, 2) cheaper than other data collection methods, and 3) sampling efficiency is higher due to extensive profiling.

Being new to this sampling game, it’s easy to go astray or feel overwhelmed. But we have got you covered! In this article, we cover it all-

What are Online Panels?

Online panels are a group of pre-selected individuals participating in market research surveys. They are recruited based on specific criteria and usually share similar traits, demography, consumption patterns etc. These individuals are known as ‘panelists’ or ‘panel members’ and respond to pre-decided questions. They take these tests online irrespective of their location, unlike in-person panelists who need to be physically present at the test location. These responses are evaluated and analysed by brands to gather insights.

Online Panels are not new. They have been used since the mid-1980s when British Videotext and France Telecom Minitel terminals were used to conduct survey interviews. The probability-based Dutch Telepanel was launched in 1986 with about 1000 households in the Netherlands. The data was transmitted using just a PC and Modem. Cut to the chase, The global online survey software market is expected to reach a total market size of US $13.796 billion by 2026.

Types Of Online Panels

Online panels are a group of pre-selected individuals participating in market research surveys. They are recruited based on specific criteria and usually share similar traits, demography, consumption patterns etc. These individuals are known as ‘panelists’ or ‘panel members’ and respond to pre-decided questions. They take these tests online irrespective of their location, unlike in-person panelists who need to be physically present at the test location. These responses are evaluated and analysed by brands to gather insights.

There are several different types of online panels. Based on probability, there are two types of panels[1]-

Probability-Based Online Panels

These recruit panel members using established sampling methodologies such as random-digit-dialling (RDD), address-based sampling (ABS), and area probability sampling. No one is allowed to join the panel unless the person is first selected in a probability sample. Panelists can’t refer friends, family, or colleagues to join the panel.

Nonprobability-Based Online Panels

Anyone aware of an open invitation to join can volunteer to become a panelist. It is impossible to know in advance who will see the invitation or how many times a person might encounter it. As a result, the panel recruiter can’t see the probability of selection of each panel member.

Based on the use case, other types of online panels are-

B2B panel

Business-to-Business (B2B) panels usually involve decision-makers in a business. They can be chosen across various functions like Marketing, Human Resources, Sales etc.

B2C panel

Business-to-Consumer (B2C) panels involve end-users of a product or service. Businesses can contact these panel members directly or indirectly to conduct their research.

General population panel

Also known as GenPop or CensusRep panel, it involves individuals (or a group of people) who represent the actual demographic makeup of the state, country, or a particular region.

Speciality panel

These involve individuals who belong to a particular specialist group of people—for example, makeup artists, homeowners, students, etc.

In-Person vs Online Panels for Surveys- Which works best?

Conducting research in person may seem like a good idea, but there are certain factors that you need to consider-

  • In-person surveys may add a personal touch, but they are time-consuming
  • ·It makes reaching out to global audiences tedious and expensive
  • The data collection is manual and can increase the chances of inaccuracies
  • It delays the entire process as offline research can take six months to over a year!
  • The size of the sample decreases as the respondents need to be physically present

Even though there is no face-to-face interaction in online panels, you have the following advantages-

  1. Sampling of respondents is more accessible, cheaper, and convenient
  2. You can reach any nook and corner of the world without spending a penny on travel
  3. The researcher does not need to monitor the panelists continuously, thereby optimising time
  4. It is convenient for the respondents as they can take the survey in the comfort of their home
  5. Online panels allow access to a bigger sample size as the respondents take the test online and do not need to be present at the test location
  6. It provides flexibility as the surveys can be conducted on mobile

Recruit or Own an Online Panel

The main difference between recruiting and owning an online panel is the accessibility. When you recruit a panel, you don’t have to worry about accessibility when a particular need arises. Owning and managing an in-house panel can sometimes restrict you, and creating a new one takes much time.

Recruit or Own Online Panel

There are multiple ways to source your panelists-

In-house Recruitment

This involves contacting, sampling, profiling and registering the respondents based on the research study criteria.

Panel Providers

This involves hiring a panel provider like Cint or Dynata. They take care of the entire process of sampling and managing the respondents. But you have to contact the respondents and send them the survey.

Native Panels

This involves conducting research on a platform which has an integrated panel like Entropik Tech’s behavioural research platform, which enables you to conduct surveys without going through the hassle of sourcing panelists.

The Right Strategy for using Online Panels for Surveys

Decide your criteria carefully

Be realistic when it comes to setting the criteria for choosing panel members. Don’t have expectations that cannot be met as it will make sampling difficult and delay the entire research process.

Optimise your time

Don’t spend too much time focusing on trivial aspects of your panelists. Choose a panel provider or native panel to do the work for you. This will help you focus on the bigger picture and optimise your resources.

Simplicity is key

Overcomplicating your panel objectives may overwhelm the respondents. Adding repetitive and multiple tasks will lower engagement and cause fatigue in the panelists. Keep your panel objective simple and easy breezy for your respondents.

Make use of technology

Using technology to automate your interaction with the respondents and collect data from them will help you eliminate inaccuracies and make the entire research process seamless.

Entropik Tech’s behavioural research platform uses technologies like facial coding and eye tracking to help you gather intelligent data based on the behaviour and emotional response of the respondents.

Keep an eye out for failure

Your selected online panel may not deliver the expected results. This could be for two reasons- either they are not the best fit for your research, and you should reconsider the criteria, or there was an issue in the survey you need to address. Don’t get bogged down by this, and opt for longitudinal research.

Key Takeaway

Online panels are a great way to collect data and get actionable insights. Making intelligent decisions while dealing with online panels will help optimize your time and drive faster results. Be it an in-house or recruited panel, having realistic expectations, and making the experience engaging for the panelists is the best route to take while conducting a survey.

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References

[1] Callegaro, Mario & Baker, Reg & Bethlehem, Jelke & Göritz, Anja & Krosnick, Jon & Lavrakas, Paul. (2014). Online panel research: History, concepts, applications and a look at the future. Online Panel Research: A Data Quality Perspective. 1-22. 10.1002/9781118763520.ch1.

[2] American Association for Public Opinion Research. (2011). Final dispositions of case -codes and outcomes rates for surveys (7th ed.)

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Author Bio

Tanvi can usually be found anxiously treading the office floor to get her content reviewed, here at Entropik. When not absorbed by researching and writing, she loves to read, go for a swim, play badminton, paint, and otherwise spend too much time bingeing on the Office and cuddling her German Shepherd, Whiskey. An absolute foodie, she would love to cook and bake for you and even give you the best dessert suggestions in the office.

Tanvi Moitra

Product Marketing Specialist

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