Building and Managing your own Online Survey Panel
In today’s competitive climate, businesses are always on the lookout for strategic advantages that they can leverage over the competition. Effective market research is one such avenue. To conduct a viable and sustainable market research program, one of the fundamental ingredients is the ability to collect actionable data from a pool of respondents.
An online survey panel is nothing but a pre-recruited pool of respondents that have, in principle, agreed to give you feedback about your business processes, products, services etc. Online survey panels are not much different that focus groups – except that focus groups tend to be much smaller in size and online panels are usually much larger and usually comprised of a wider variety of respondents.
How are online survey panels different than sending surveys to your customers? – In principle, the members of an online survey panel represent the industry or market segment that you sell products and services to, whereas collecting data from your customers does not take into account the views of non-customers. Collecting market research data from existing customers may bias your research and that is the reason online survey panels provide a more accurate representation. Some of the key benefits of having an online panel that you can gather ad-hoc feedback from:
Sometimes we cannot rely on the quality of survey respondents from external vendors or it makes strategic sense for companies to build out their own panel of respondents for market research studies. In cases where your customers are considered niche, it makes sense to invest the time and effort in building out your own online panel of respondents.
Due to advances in technology and a competitive marketplace, the job of building out a panel has become easy and streamlined. Just as companies have already figured out a way to provide a point-and-click interface to develop a survey, you can also build out an online panel portal using your web browser and start collecting members interested in taking surveys.
Building out your own panel is definitely more time consuming and difficult than simply engaging an outsourced panel provider i.e. renting a panel, but the rewards are also significant. The quality of the respondents is generally higher in self-recruited panels. The long term costs of such initiatives usually much cheaper than engaging external vendors for all your market research initiatives.
Our experience has shown another side-effect to developing your own panel – executives tend to trust the data generated by self-recruited panels much more than outsourced panels. The general perception is that self-recruited panels represent your customer base more accurately than outsourced panels.
Developing an Online Survey Panel In this section, we’ll go over the basis steps involved in developing an online survey panel. Basic concepts and ideas are explained for each step to help you understand and think through the process.
Online Links and Ad’s on your current website
Targeted advertising in industry specific sites
Recruiting members from other generalized surveys
Recruiting members physically, flyers etc.
Double opt-in verification
Email based notification
Alternative notification methods
Online Payment Via. Paypal
Using iTunes Song Download Coupons
Providing coupons and discounts for your own product/service
The first step in getting started with the process of developing your online panel is to decide on a panel recruitment portal. This is the website that your panel members will come for administrative issues (self-service) as well as the site where they login and take surveys. Any panel recruitment portal should explain the following concepts very clearly:
Online panel recruitment can be done in a variety of ways. We’ll highlight a few common methods used for panel recruitment and give some details on each method. The idea behind all the different modes of recruitment is to drive users to a particular website (Panel Recruitment Portal) whereby users can signup and agree to be part of the panel. We believe that it is important for panel members to self-register. This introduces the concept of self-service to the panel members. It saves a lot of administrative costs in terms of day-to-day management of the panel in the long run. Panel members are already accustomed to self-service and can login to the panel recruitment portal and change email addresses, view status of surveys etc.
Double Opt-in Verification - In today’s email SPAM infested world, it is very important for users to “opt-in” to become a part of the panel. Email invitation delivered to users who have consciously chosen to be part of the online panel cannot be considered as SPAM. The industry standard and accepted way of verification of opt-in status and email address is using the double opt-in paradigm.
The double opt-in paradigm is fairly simple. Users use the web browser interface to signup with their email address. As soon as they signup, an email with a verification code is sent to the email address provided. Panel members are only considered “verified” if they click on the verification link provided in the automated email that goes out to them. This guarantees that the member signing up has access to the email box and that emails sent to the member actually get delivered. It also ensures that users have not inadvertently signed up for something that they did not fully understand.
Demographic Survey/Data - Once users get verified, it is generally a good idea to present them with a demographic or a signup survey. The demographic/signup survey can ask key data elements (age, sex, etc.) that you consider vital for segmentation. The data you collect here can be used to select panel members based on the criteria for future research projects. For example a future research project may require that surveys be only sent out to users from a particular geographic region. In such as case, it would be prudent to collect data about the members current geographic boundary – zip code/state/country etc.
Another reason for having a customized demographic/signup survey is that the accepted geographical boundaries in different countries are different. USA has states, Canada has provinces etc. A well thought out demographic/signup survey help you target your future research more effectively.
So far we’ve been talking about recruitment and the signup process. Assuming the recruitment effort is healthily, its time to do some real market research work.
Depending upon your demographic survey and your requirements (selection criteria) for your current project, you should be able to select a subset (or all) the members in your panel for a particular campaign. Generally survey invitations should only be sent to verified panel members. This reduces the chance of your survey invitations being categorized as SPAM.
It is also prudent to explain the research objective as well as the compensation strategy in the email itself. This enables the respondent to align his interests with yours. Panel members are then directed to come to the Panel Recruitment Portal, signup with their email address and password and take the survey. While this (login with email address/password) introduces an additional step in the process, we believe that this is the best way to make sure that the users who signed up as a panel member is the one taking the survey. This mitigates the risk of emails being forwarded, people taking the survey multiple times for further compensation etc.
Avoiding the Email/SPAM issue entirely – Alternative notification methods
With the incessant growth of SPAM and junk mail, a lot of legitimate emails are also categorized as SPAM. It is fairly difficult to differentiate between legitimate bulk email (where respondents have chosen to receive mail) and unsolicited mail. One solution that can be used to avoid this problem entirely is to have an alternative notification mechanism. We at Survey Analytics are working on a couple of alternative delivery mechanisms to overcome the SPAM issue.
Although deploying solutions like qConnect and Instant Messenger based communication is much more difficult than sending out emails, they can be done in conjunction with existing delivery methods like email. Users can even choose between the multiple delivery methods available – this gives power back to the panel members to self-administer their interaction with you.
As with any project, expecting everything to go flawlessly is short-sighted. You usually plan for the worst and hope for the best. Having efficient mechanisms in place to address concerns and questions raised by your panel members is necessary to keep your overall maintenance costs down.
With this in mind, we believe it is necessary to have an integrated incident management (case/trouble ticket) system in place. This leads to fewer dropped requests and panel members know that their concerns and questions are tracked and being responded to, as opposed to sending out an email to a generic email box.
Another obvious benefit to using an integrated trouble ticketing system is the ability to find frequently asked questions and essentially pre-empting such questions. Depending upon the target audience you may not be able to anticipate all the concerns that users may have. In such cases, having an integrated case and issue tracking system enables you to collect the data necessary and address the issues before they become issues.