Don’t squeeze life out of panels

14th November, 2011

I’ve just stumbled across a blog post by Ivana Taylor, publisher of DIYMarketers, who asks the excellent question, “Are Traditional Online Research Panels Dead?”

Like Ivana, I take an active interest in others’ work and feel a sense of duty to participate in surveys when invited to do so, though often with the professional curiosity to check out the competition and to see if I might just learn something new!

We often make use of independent panels to provide online survey sample. We do so with diligence, wary of how the panel was recruited and conscious that such sources will have particular bias to them – just as  other methodologies will.

One thing we are very aware of is that because the survey is online and responses can be compiled quickly and often relatively inexpensively, it doesn’t mean that the survey has to be “quick and dirty.”  It doesn’t mean that it’s now a techie’s job to implement rather than the exec’s.

With experience, I’d say even more care is needed because there can be more to go wrong. Routing can be complex and when mistakes are made they tend to be highly visible and can be complex. And expensive. How are you going to explain to the client that 100, 500 or 1000 people didn’t answer the most important question on the survey because someone hadn’t re-tested the routing after inserting a new response code?

Whilst online research panels may not be dead, as sure as eggs are eggs they will slowly suffocate if researchers don’t take due responsibility for applying them with care and attention.  Mis-quoting the length of surveys, presenting questions that are highly irrelevant to the respondent or collecting data for 20 minutes before booting out the respondent because he or she doesn’t qualify, are all too common and eroding panel members’ trust and good will.

Panels are far from dead, but if we squeeze life out of them then they soon will be.