Online Research Panels

What is the Purpose of an Online Research Panel?

Online research panels are an extension of research companies who have operated for many years prior to the birth of the internet. The methods used are largely the same, but the internet has helped them to advance their research by the use of graphics and other interactive tools, which has in turn led to a more engaging experience for the people taking part. The internet has also assisted market research companies to reach a wider and more varied audience and to expand their research further than was previously possible.

In setting up and recruiting a panel of people for a particular project, market research companies will often select members from an existing online community, or they may sometimes recruit via other online research panels. Either way, the aim is to collect a certain amount of data as well as the various opinions and suggestions of the people they've recruited, so that they can examine their findings and reach a conclusion.

How does Online Research differ from Offline Research?

The consumer market has advanced considerably over the years and, as a result, it's often necessary to carry out research in ways that would be time consuming and expensive, as well as considerably difficult to organise, in an offline situation. For instance, online candidates for focus groups can be selected from a much wider demographic, brought together in one place and without the expense of booking a venue and reimbursing travelling expenses. There are also situations where it's sometimes necessary to trial a product over, say, two weeks; the participants may be required to complete an online diary or upload regular pieces of video recording their findings and this is much more easily organised online (and again reaches a much wider demographic) than attempting to co-ordinate such a piece of research in an offline venue.

Open and Closed Research Communities

In many cases, an online research organisation will have open communities where panellists can interact with one another and discuss and exchange ideas freely, in their own time. These online communities are often very informal and active participation is encouraged and, in some cases, rewarded. A wealth of information can be gleaned from the discussion of a product, how it performs, and how it can be improved. From time to time, moderators will frequent the boards of an online discussion group to ask relevant questions, or to encourage panellists to elaborate on an interesting point they've made. Conversely, some communities will be closed off to new members and will often be made up of a carefully selected group of people who fit a particular demographic and who have been specifically targeted for a particular study – in some cases, a brand may require its own select panel for ongoing research into how to make their product better. Both open and closed communities provide qualitative research on a much deeper level than offline research methods, and are becoming more widespread, with the added advantage of easier recruitment methods.

Online Research Panels: The Voice of the Future

More often than not, there will be people who are more comfortable taking part in online discussions and focus groups where they can freely express their opinions, without the added pressure of shyness or feeling awkward in front of others. Before the days of the internet, market researchers were faced with the difficult task of recruiting people by other means, such as stopping people in the street or canvassing in supermarkets or department stores. Whilst this form of recruiting panellists still exists, the task of rounding up a group of people with a common demographic is considerably easier to do online. Potential candidates will probably be more willing to give some of their free time to taking part in online research that they can do in the comfort of their own home and without the need to attend a particular venue. What's more, if the researchers are offering a reward, they will be inundated with offers to take part!