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Are Online Panel Recruitment Methods Outdated?

Panel recruitment is a real issue that must be addressed and tackled head-on. The MR industry must take this seriously, because the real existential threat to our industry is neither automation nor competing methodologies: it’s the future of research participation.


By James Rogers

As market research has undergone significant transformation in recent years, so too must the approach to panel recruitment. In an age where consumers are constantly distracted by multiple bids for their time the process is more competitive than ever. Ensuring the right approach to panel recruitment is imperative if representative sample supply is to be sustained.

Additionally, while consumers’ heads are turned in all directions – social media, gaming, on-demand TV – the demand for data and insight has grown exponentially, making the quest for ethical, respectful and efficient panel recruitment much more important.

The issues

Traditional panels have and continue to present bias based on legacy recruitment methodologies. Panelist’s engage based on the premise of ‘earning’ for their opinion rather than engaging with a brand they ultimately have an affinity with. Furthermore, faceless interactions with the unknown panel provider causes churn rates to soar and increasing multi-panel membership.

Simply by looking at the traditional recruitment methodologies it is clear that we are limiting the respondent pool to those who are attracted to the ‘$’ rather than having their opinions heard.

Technology has evolved which enables us to reach further than before, and yet methods are still being employed that limit online panels such as:

  • Recruitment via reward led SEO – simply Google search (surveys for money)
  • Competition prize draw websites and e-shots
  • Large scale non-profiled recruitment / databases
  • Annoying, inappropriately placed pop-ups

The surprise and wow factor of online panels has been and gone and we need to understand that low response rates, high turnover and even potential data issues are linked to where respondents come from and how we interact with them afterwards.

The solutions

So how can we preserve the future of market research? Respondents, after all, are the lifeblood of the industry and maintaining and building the supply should be top priority for the industry as a whole. There isn’t an infinite population of respondents to take surveys, so industry players need to work together in the mission to get people to participate in research and respond to surveys – in an increasingly ‘noisy’ space. We need to ultimately be where people are and engage with them in subjects that they are interested in.

The latest GRIT report highlighted the challenges faced by online panel companies in attracting and engaging new participants and as a result, half of MR firms believe the quality of online sample will decline in the coming years.

So what is the answer? We believe that community platforms and exchanges such as Macromill, Vision Critical, Toluna and of course, Cint, are providing a real solution to the issue. Made up of branded panels – there is more success to be had in engaging respondents when they are brand ambassadors. This leads to lower churn rates and higher response rates – as participation is based on brand affinity rather than cash for questions.

The result is a diverse and origin-agnostic respondent pool, and as the respondents are non- traditional MR respondents, there is arguably less bias.

Panel recruitment is a real issue that must be addressed and tackled head-on. The MR industry must take this seriously, because as the GRIT report concluded: The real existential threat to our industry is neither automation nor competing methodologies: it’s the future of research participation.

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3 responses to “Are Online Panel Recruitment Methods Outdated?

  1. The solution of branded panels is great. However, I have been setting up these panel deals with media owners/publishers in the past and I also have built my own panel with an e-commerce cashback program. The good thing about this approach is that you get people that normally don’t get involved with research.

    The challenge for the research industry is to deliver surveys that are engaging enough so that people like to participate.

    The feedback of my business partner who owns the E-commerce cashback program is: I invest so much in the e-commerce cashback website: AB testing, making the website engaging enough, TV Commercials, etc. And when I see how the MR space is exposing a survey to my members, it’s just shocking if you look at the quality in terms of survey design, type of questions, length of interview and technical issues when you work with automation companies as a client. I have a very loyal database and my customer support are receiving so many complaints each day.

    So yeh, I still see a huge disconnect between the e-commerce/online brands world and the online panel market research world. Personally, I like the Vision Critical offline recruitment approach as when I walk in Westfield for example (a shopping mall in London) then I see nice looking billboards asking me to join their panel.

    While recruiting for panels, I think we should look at a win-win for brands, respondents, MR agencies and panel agencies all together….that means investing $$$

  2. In fact the ubiquity of platforms such as WeChat in China are making it very clear that panels are a thing of the past in this market. WeChat will eventually roll across other parts of Asia and Line is already the significant platform in Japan. WhatsApp are starting to realize that they need to build more of a relationship platform rather than just a communications tool. Basically the ability to obtain fresh samples from these emerging social media platforms will sound the death nell of panels and even community panels.

    The ability to identify survey participants based on their groups participation (an interest group that they have been involved with) is so easy these days than panel owners are China are becoming very concerned. In fact they are responding by using the same sources. A study we did recently of over 2000 mothers with children under 1 year of age was completed in less than a week without using any panel source. .And these people are very low incidence and “date sensitive” in China.

    The days of panels are basically over, its just a matter of time as these social media platforms spread to other markets globally or find their own local versions. I say good to that. Fresh and involved respondents define these very targetable audiences..

  3. Exchanges aren’t a solution. The only problem they solve is pooling volume and improving liquidity, and increasing price transparency. If you’re talking about branded communities, then that’s great for the brand, but it’s effectively an echo chamber and will give them unbiased opinions about the category or competition, so this isn’t a solution either. Do you have any other possibilities? Or should we just blame the survey writers? Last I checked, suppliers had choices.

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