Are we all “panelled out”?

Are we all “panelled out”?

Response rates to traditional surveys have been steadily dropping for years, telephone interviewing has been hit by the increase in mobile-only households and a recent an article in Research Live suggests we have reached “peak panel” – which raises some interesting questions.

Mitch Eggers, chief scientist at GMI suggests that the availability of respondents taking part as online panellists has peaked, and now looks set to decline. It’s possible that by as early as next year, constraints on capacity may force researchers to look for other methods to engage respondents.

Could it be that the role or researcher will shift from running panels to that of creating website communities and forums that create a more stimulating environment for respondents to share their views? Or will we see a number of partnerships developing between high traffic/niche audience site owners and research companies?

Respondent fatigue is not a new phenomenon and one could argue it was only a matter of time before “panel burn out” was likely to occur – especially with access panels. However, rather  than just looking at the supply side of respondents willing to take part in online surveys, perhaps we need to question the nature of surveys themselves. Overlong, boring, visually dull, poorly designed questionnaires are hardly going to entice respondents to come back for more – unless the incentives are very high, which of course has a serious impact on cost.

It would be easy to blame the proliferation of DIY surveys for adding to the monotony of online surveys which would test even the most hardened “professional respondent”. However, we all have a role to play in creating online surveys that are engaging – not just from an altruistic view of “saving the industry”, but simply that better surveys will yield better results.

We believe that surveys need to be as short, relevant and engaging as possible in order to get the level of insight you need and it certainly helps to get professional guidance in question design. Deriving the maximum benefit from the minimum number of questions is an art form which is often sadly neglected. The temptation is simply to keep adding extra questions and this is to the detriment of the survey, as respondents get fatigued, become yet another “non-complete” or fail to take the time to answer questions as honestly as they could.

Another option to relying on access panels to deliver quality sample, is for clients to work in partnership with research providers to build their own custom panels or develop them into online communities (some call them community panels). Custom panels as the name suggests can be much more targeted to specific audiences, surveys can therefore be shorter, more relevant, and more appealing. However, if you require more interaction with your respondents, or wish to encourage them to communicate among themselves, then an online community is probably the best way forward. At DigitalMR we differentiate between panels and online communities for quantitative research (with number of members in the thousands) and online communities for qualitative research (we call them Think Tanks – number of members up to 500). However there is nothing to  prevent an online community being used for both quantitative and qualitative research provided there are enough members.
Which brings us back to one of the questions raised at the start – will the role of online researchers increasing move from that of panel hosts to website hosts? An interesting future for market research certainly lies ahead.

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