web-based research

Panel Research and Engagement: A Perfect Fit

Check out panel research to see whether its information-rich benefits match your need to understand and engage a key audience.

Check out panel research to see whether its information-rich benefits match your need to understand and engage a key audience.

Panel research and engagement go together. You can gain feedback, share information and reap the benefits of extended conversations.

There really isn't any other formal research technique that can deliver that full set of benefits.

The research technique used always should match the objective of the research. Panel research works best under these conditions:

  • You want a large, representative sample of opinion from — for example — your customer database or registered voters.

  • You want the ability to segment your sample for follow-up research based on answers they give, not random selection.

  • You want to engage people in an extended dialogue, with repeat conversations about multiple products or in-depth discussion of an evolving piece of legislation.

Web-based panel research offers other virtues, such as the ability of respondents to answer survey questions at their leisure, not when someone calls them on the phone, or to participate in an online focus group instead of trooping to a hotel room equipped with a camera and cold sandwiches.

While erasing time and space concerns is valuable, the bedrock value of panel research lies in its capacity to engage. You can do more than ask questions. You can cultivate the panel by sharing the findings of the survey they participated in, asking follow-up questions or soliciting their volunteered thoughts.

Unlike a phone call during dinnertime, panel research isn't intrusive. It is inclusive. Respondents can participate at noon or midnight. They can offer more than the one answer to a multiple-choice question. They can ask questions and seek answers. Your research goes from an uneasy transaction to satisfying involvement. 

Two-way involvement is a very different quality than you get from a traditional telephone poll, in-person survey or point-of-sale intercept. The richness of information that panel can yield is the argument for doing it.

Not all situations require rich information. But many do. Panel research is worth exploring to see whether it is the right choice to meet your challenge.

The Sample Matters, Not Just the Tool

The Washington Post gave readers an informative glimpse into the debate raging among research professionals over the use of "opt-in Internet survey data," or what we call panel research.

Using databases, as opposed to randomly selected samples, is not new or even exceptional. Organizations that have collected email addresses from customers, patients and stakeholders use panel research on a routine basis to measure everything from customer satisfaction to reactions to advertising to introductions of new products and services.

The qualms over panel research center on its application to public-opinion polling. Traditional researchers believe telephone surveys remain the gold standard and web-based surveys remain untested. Like The Washington Post and New York Times, we respectfully disagree.

The national newspapers use YouGov polling, which relies on representative panels drawn from huge databases. Participants opt in to the panel through an online survey. But the pollsters in charge manage the panel's profile to match the "public" being measured, whether it is the national electorate or likely voters in an Ohio congressional district.

We conduct online research using panels for both market and public-opinion research. Ensuring a representative sample of participants is important whether you are relying on a proprietary database or drawing from databases that you lease. 

Soliciting panel participants from leased databases through email is not all that different than drawing a random sample of phone numbers to call on the telephone. Both generally work on the principle of probability. The skill and integrity of polling comes from making sure wherever your sample comes from, it accurately reflects the constituency you are trying to poll