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research panelists

Research Panels

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As market researchers, our biggest goal is to collect and analyze insightful data that we can use to drive the bottom line.

One way of doing that is by using research panels. 

Research panels are an effective way to collect information in a relatively budget-friendly way, but there ways to get the most out of using them. Let’s take an in-depth look at research panels to determine the best ways to execute them.

What Is A Research Panel?

First, let’s define what a research panel is.

Simply put, a research panel, also known as an online research panel, is a group (commonly referred to as a “sample”) of people who’ve agreed to complete online surveys. In most cases, the sample will have similar traits (demographics, psychographics, etc.) and will answer questions that are formed around a certain topic.

To incentivize people in the sample to take the surveys, companies will provide incentives such as reward systems or special deals.

How Research Panels Are Formed

While there are a few ways to form online research panels, there are three stand-out methods that are commonly employed by online research panel providers.

Proprietary Panels

Panelists are gathered in segmented communities within one central website. These websites are promoted through social media, search engines, and online ads to keep the survey panels growing, and the various communities within them, growing. In these types of survey platforms, panelists are verified by providing their personal information.

API Integrations

Panel providers may provide API integrations that allow panelists to take surveys via the provider technology within a brand’s digital assets.

Third-Party Surveys

Panel providers may work with third-party sources. In doing so, there’s an additional level of screening to verify panelists provided by third-parties.

Different Kinds Of Online Research Panels

The various kinds of research panels mostly have to do with the characteristics of those in the sample. 

B2C

B2C research panels focus on samples of various consumer segments. For example, for pet studies, researchers would want a panel of pet owners.

B2B

B2B research panels focus on samples grouped by profession or career industry, such as HR decision-makers or accounting decision-makers.

Healthcare/Medical

Healthcare or medical-related samples focus on gathering information from doctors within certain specialties, such as Pediatricians or Nurses, or patients with specific ailments, such as diabetes or sleep apnea.

How To Manage A Research Panel

As with anything in the online world, you are at risk of experiencing fraudsters with your research panel. In some cases, people may manipulate their survey responses to get more incentives from surveys, such as:

  • Misrepresent themselves by obtaining random directory details
  • Obtain free email addresses
  • Use different IP addresses to avoid detection
  • Use bots to automate responses

This is where effectively managing your research panel will be key, which you can do by continually monitoring, screening, and verifying survey respondents in your research panel. It’s a good idea to have various safeguards in place to avoid fraud activity. For example, Fuel Cycle carefully screens survey respondents and verifies them.

Managing a research panel also involves taking measures to prevent drop-offs (people leaving before finishing the survey.) You can do this by studying drop off points and taking measures such as shortening the survey or restructuring survey questions.

Benefits Of Managing Your Own Panel

Earlier we explored the three different ways that research panels are formed. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the benefits of forming and managing your own panel, versus outsourcing to a panel provider.

Do More Research– Because of how simple it is to create and deploy surveys to your panel, you can do more research.

Faster Insights– Managing your own panel means getting survey responses back sooner than other methods.

Higher Response Rates– Panelists have agreed to take your survey, which means you’ll garner higher response rates.

Richer Profiles– As panelists participate in more surveys, their profiles will be stacked with rich data that can be used for more research down the line.

Save Money– Owning and managing your own panel is substantially more cost-effective than buying a sample from another source.

Benefits Of Buying A Sample (Outsourcing Research)

Now, let’s dive into the benefits of buying a sample from a third-party and outsourcing your research panels.

Speed– Research is a slow process, so time may not be on your side initially. If you need timely data, purchasing a pre-assembled sample might be your best bet.

Short-term Cost– If you don’t plan on consistently deploying surveys, and only want to deploy a few in the foreseeable future, buying a panel may be more cost-effective.

More Time For Other Tasks– Outsourcing your panel means your research team doesn’t have to manage the panel themselves, so they have time for other tasks.

Diversity– Buying your own panel means you’re able to diversify your sample as needed. For example, if you sell women’s athletic gear and want to expand to men’s athletic gear, your existing audience won’t be the best sample. In this case, you can purchase a separate sample of male athletes.

Cons Of Online Research Panels

While online research panels are a go-to for collecting valuable data, there are a few drawbacks.

Limited To Internet Population

You might be wondering how this would be a con considering how expansive the internet community is. That said, if you want to reach people in rural areas or those in countries with low-internet access, you may run into some difficulties.

Respondent Fraud And Bias

We mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The online world is full of fraudsters, and this extends into the research panel community. Safeguards will be necessary to ensure genuine responses.

Multiple Panel Participation

If a participant is in more than one panel, you run the risk of receiving duplicate responses, which can skew your data. You can avoid this by ensuring that your panel provider can effectively provide a panel for all the areas you need data for, so you don’t have more than one provider.

Researcher Bias

This can happen in any research method. To avoid researcher bias, be sure to have multiple parties assess the survey questions and analyze the answers.

Key Takeaways

Let’s recap some key points about research panels.

  • A research panel, also known as an online research panel, is a group (commonly referred to as a “sample”) of people who’ve agreed to complete online surveys.
  • To incentivize people in the sample to take the surveys, companies will provide incentives such as reward systems or special deals.
  • There are three stand-out methods that are commonly employed by online research panel providers: proprietary panels, API integrations, and third-party providers.
  • There are different kinds of research panels, mostly defined by the characteristics of the panels themselves: B2C, B2B, and Healthcare/Medical.
  • Effectively managing your research panel will be key, which you can do by continually monitoring, screening, and verifying survey respondents in your research panel. You’ll also want to frequently check drop-off rates and make changes as needed.
  • The biggest cons of online research panels are that they’re limited to the internet population, there’s a risk of respondent fraud, bias, or multiple respondents, and you run the risk of researcher bias.

Bottom line: using research panels have a lot of pros, but there are also some risks. If you determine that the pros outweigh the cons, be sure to consult with high-quality providers or protect yourself from the risks of managing your own.