Online Panels: The Black Sheep of Market Research — Part 1.

It seems people have lost the notion of what a market research panel truly is.

By Adriana Rocha

Anyone following Greenbook Blog, or reading the numerous articles posted about online panels recently will probably agree with me that the market research industry has named online panels as the “Black Sheep” of the industry. It seems that everybody agrees the golden days of panel companies are over, that panels are the responsible for the poor data quality of online surveys, the ones that have created professional survey takers, and the list of bad things about online panels goes on and on….

As more of those articles continue being published, the more pissed off I’ve become, and that’s why I’ve decided to write this piece. It seems people have lost the notion of what a market research panel truly is. With the proliferation of “scam panels”, routers, and many easy ways to drive online traffic to surveys, tons of companies that call themselves a “panel company” have arisen, with no market research background, no panel background, caring little about the experience respondents have by taking surveys and even less about the quality of the data collected.

Yes, “respondents” is still how the industry calls people who dedicate a few minutes of their precious time (well, OK, most of the times many minutes) to participate in market research studies. Oh, “respondents” are just the good ones. The bad ones are “speeders”, “straight-liners”, etc. and market researchers have equipped themselves with advanced technologies to find such bad respondents, identify frauds, eliminate duplicates, etc…

However, researchers are missing the point by forgetting to fix the origin of all of this big mess: poor user experiences.

My advice: provide people good user experiences when responding to your surveys. Respect their time. Be transparent. Give them a real purpose (not necessarily monetary) to contribute to your research study and you’ll be surprised with the results. Instead of buying poor sample services from cheap providers (those are the ones who care less about your data) and then spending money later having to clean your database or re-doing your fieldwork, look for reliable companies who respect people that participate in their panels and in your studies.

In any other industry, companies who build a quality database of subscribers and maintain a long-term trusted relationship with their users are highly valuable. That’s what true panel companies do. So instead of killing the few ones that are still fighting to survive in this industry, it would be smarter to work closer with them. They are not the black sheep of the industry. They are the ones with background, knowledge, tools and technologies that can help online market research be great again.

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Originally published at on March 9, 2016.