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5 Lessons that Will Influence Your Thoughts About Online Panels

As part of Leger’s Client Solutions team, I speak to clients regularly, and one topic that frequently emerges is panels and what makes one different from another. To get the skinny on this topic, I went behind the curtain with Leger’s LEO panel team to gather some intel.

Online panel members

Here are the 5 lessons I learned:

1. Quality Trumps Quantity

Online panels are an excellent resource for collecting survey data to support decision making. However, this ONLY rings true if they deliver accurate, reliable results! For this reason, users need to pay attention to panel quality, which should be the number one consideration when evaluating different options.

On the surface, it seems easy to create a panel; you just need to start inviting folks! However, the reality is that it is quite the opposite, and there are numerous factors to take into consideration when evaluating panel quality, including:

  • Whether a double opt-in protocol is in place
  • How invalid email addresses are handled
  • How frequently member profiles are updated
  • How inactive respondents are removed

And the list goes on!

While quality is foundational, it is not to say that size doesn’t play a role. In fact, the advantage of having a large panel is the ability to reach representative samples of diverse target populations, in addition to being able to target niche segments that would otherwise be difficult to find.

2. Smart Recruitment Means Better Representation

Recruitment efforts should be aligned towards maximizing reach and achieving representativeness. There is a direct correlation between how panelists are recruited and the quality of the panel.

When evaluating how a panel recruits its members, consider:

  • How the recruitment process reduces bias (for example, is a hybrid approach used, rather than a single source?)
  • If random selection (such as using traditional and mobile telephone methodologies) is the primary recruitment method
  • Whether a validation process is in place to decrease fraud

3. The Need to Create a Positive Member Experience Cannot Be Overstated

It’s not enough to just recruit your panelists – you need to find ways to retain them so that they are nourished, happy and ready to respond to surveys! It’s important to make them feel part of a special ‘community’. The trick, however, is to find the right balance between rewards and fair treatment.  When the two are aligned, engagement is stronger, and the benefits are better survey response rates and higher-quality responses.

So, where does the journey begin? It starts with an onboarding process, which should be designed to provide clear, digestible information about what a panel is, the expectations for being a panel member and what rewards are offered/how the reward system works. Members should also be able to access a privacy policy to understand how their personal information is protected.

To keep members engaged, it is important to consider the following:

  • Survey accessibility: Can the survey be completed on all devices? Is it mobile first? Is it available on an app? Is there any gamification to make it fun?
  • The look and feel of the platform: Is the branding clear? Does it look appealing, professional and legitimate?
  • The frequency of survey invitations: Too many leads to members leaving the panel; too few reduces engagement.
  • The survey itself: Is the topic interesting? Is the length appropriate? Is it written in user-friendly language?
  • Technical support: Is an appropriate amount provided, bearing in mind that surveys can be completed 24/7?

4. Data Security Goes Beyond Compliance

While data protection and data security need to conform to the highest industry standards, certain clients, such as governments, have additional strict protocols that need to be adhered to. Compliance aside, security protocols need to be in place to protect both panelists and clients.

Panelists need to know that their opinions will be kept confidential, they will not be solicited for marketing purposes and their personal information is protected. They also need to know that the system for claiming their incentives is safe and secure.

Clients often use panels to gather proprietary, confidential information and need to know the protocols in place to ensure that their data is kept confidential and is not leaked to the competition or the general marketplace.  

5. Leaning into the Right Quality Controls Reduces Fraud

There are no limits to what some folks will go to receive something for ‘free’.  Unfortunately, this can occur in the panel world because incentives are typically provided for completing surveys. The good news is that there are quality controls that can be put in place to detect and prevent fraud.

Specific fraud-detection tactics can include:

  • Implementing strict username and password restrictions upon registration
  • Blocking VPNs
  • De-duplicating new members against the existing panel
  • And more!

In summary, it was surprising to learn the depth of complexity in building and maintaining a quality panel that can ensure trustworthy results. This challenge likely explains why fewer players tend to be in this space!

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