For general quantitative research with a large scope, how likely are you to recommend online panel research to your clients and why or why not?

2013 market research trends

My answer is a very firm and definite “It depends!” Online panel research can be a very appropriate option for some studies under the right conditions. Here are a few (but not necessarily all) of the conditions that would need to be present before I would recommend going with an online panel:

  1. The survey area comprises a fairly broad geographic range. Generally speaking, the more condensed a geography is, the less chance there is that the panel will have enough members for a viable survey. If I was surveying the entire U.S. or a large region consisting of multiple states, it’s an option I’d consider. If it was a single metropolitan area or a collection of mid-sized cities, I might explore the possibility, but I wouldn’t expect the numbers to ultimately be there.
  2. The target population is difficult to reach by other means. There are some population segments (most notably young adults) that are very difficult to reach by traditional means. Panels are very attractive options in those cases. On the other hand, if I was dealing with a segment that was easy to reach over the phone (e.g., seniors) or for which a non-panel online survey was workable, I’d probably be more inclined to do those as opposed to a panel. That said, if there were significant cost or time advantages to going with the panel and the other three conditions in this list were met, I might advise the panel regardless of the ease of reaching the population other ways.
  3. A panel is available though a credible organization. Preferably, it is a firm that I know and trust. That firm should be willing and able to explain to me their procedures for maintaining and managing their panel; the more transparent the better. I need to know that the respondents aren’t going to be professional survey takers who weren’t properly screened and that my survey isn’t going to be the seventh one they do that morning.
  4. The survey in question is not a tracking study that used a different mode in the past, thereby potentially causing blips in the trending data. I might actually be okay with this if the client fully understood and accepted the ramifications and the other options were unattractive or unfeasible. But if the original mode was still a viable option and the client (or their stakeholders) are going to be sensitive to sudden changes in data trends, I would stay away from advising a panel survey, even if it meant foregoing cost and time advantages.

Chris Coville, our Senior Research Associate at RMS will offer his view on panels in part 2 of this 2013 Market Research Trends piece. If you are interested in using a panel in Syracuse NY, contact our Business Development Director, Sandy Baker at or by calling 315-635-9802.