Web 2.0 and the Online Panelist Experience: The Online Panel Community has Arrived
by Lee Powney, Head of Marketing, Toluna PLC; Frank Smadja, CEO, Toluna Israel
Online panel organizations have seen the most dramatic growth in the market research sector in the past few years. Through research Toluna has found that higher response rates are dependent on two interrelated concepts: profiling depth and the panelists' online experience. A Web 2.0 approach to online panel management is outlined in this article.
The online research market has seen dramatic growth over the last two years. Organizations have embraced the Internet as a means of dramatically reducing the data collection costs associated with traditional methods such as postal, telephone and face-to-face interviews. Online panel organizations have seen the most dramatic growth in the market research sector, with both North American and European players providing access to millions of opted-in respondents for online surveys.
For the uninitiated reader an online panel is simply a group of individuals, recruited via an online portal and motivated through points-based incentives, who respond to surveys. The most basic quality management requirements of a panel are to provide a double opt-in procedure, de-duplicate postal and email addresses, collect demographic information for sampling, limit the number of surveys a member can take and provide an incentive / reward mechanism for participating in a survey.
The downside to this dramatic growth in the number of surveys and panels created in such a short period of time is the over-solicitation of panelists and declining response rates to surveys.
A recent study, presented at last year’s ESOMAR Congress by Toluna, has highlighted the possibilities Web 2.0 concepts present to improve panel response rates. One of the most striking results from this study of over 3,600 members of Toluna’s panels showed that the ability to express, collect and share opinions during their online experience is of far more interest than the ability to post and share video, for example, which was rated 50% lower.
After running online panels in 30 countries with over 2.4 million panelists, we strongly believe that higher response rates are dependent on these two interrelated concepts: profiling depth, and the panelists’ online experience. We further believe that both concepts benefit greatly from a Web 2.0 approach to online panel management.
The Panel Community Evolves
Bearing in mind that online panels have audiences of millions, how many communicate a unique value proposition? By definition, panels are brands and their members have formed a relationship with them, but how many actively base their panelist relationship management (PRM) key performance indictors on user satisfaction? How many have invested in adding value to the panelists’ online experience? How many have considered evolving their panels into panel communities? A brand relationship, as any brand manager will testify, is based upon a focus to innovate and improve the value provided. Panelist relationship management has yet to evolve as a clear focus for most panel companies, yet panelist retention and interaction is a panel company’s most valuable asset.
To compound matters further for many panel companies, the level of 'web expectation' has dramatically increased in recent years. With the spread of Web 2.0 technologies across the web we have seen the evolution of the empowered consumer. Individuals no longer passively digest information from the web and users now expect to take an active role in the dynamic and continually evolving web of user generated, shared and compared content. Consumers now expect to be provided with the tools to generate and publish their opinions.
For several years, Toluna has been actively encouraging its panelists to express their opinions across literally hundreds of topics and has invested heavily in sponsoring in-home product tests, prize drawings, and competitions, all as part of a focused effort to create a community of highly responsive and deeply profiled panelists.
Web 2.0 for an Enriched Panelist Experience
Toluna is currently evolving its 30 global consumer panels into the next phase of its community development strategy. Toluna has launched a new panel community which for the first time in the history of the market research industry, allows members to conduct their own research and share results online and within the panel itself.
The Web 2.0 concept, known as ‘dpolls’, allows users to create a poll, let the panel community respond to it, and also publish it on the Blog or Web page. Dpolls is one of the dominant poll widgets on the web, with thousands of active polls being published every day all over the world. Since October 2007, Toluna.com panelists have been able to create polls (using the dpolls widget), collect results, participate in discussion threads, interact with one another and leave qualitative opinions on topics such as movies, health and education. Each user has a home page describing themselves and their interests. Responses can be in the tens of thousands and each member can, at any time, see the demographic comparisons of respondents.
Web 2.0 for Deeper and Better Profiling
Put simply, the richer the data available on a panelist, and the more regularly updated this information is, the higher the response rates to a specific survey. Screen outs are reduced and the panel is not ‘burnt’ by inviting individuals who would not qualify. Toluna currently has over 700 attributes per panelist and members are rewarded for updating this information across 16 ‘topics’. By giving opinions, participating in polls created by other users, and generating content on Toluna.com, users are providing even more information on themselves which can then be added to their profiling data and used to reduce burn-out and improve response rates to surveys.
For the first time, panelists are creating their own research which, in turn, is fueling their levels of panel engagement. A satisfying and valuable online experience helps to ensure that panelists provide greater and more regularly updated profiling, share qualitative opinions, and respond to surveys. No longer are monetary rewards the sole basis of the panel/panelist relationship.
In this more competitive landscape, with panelists being overwhelmed with requests for surveys, it pays to take a step back from traditional methods of assessing an online panel provider and ask a simple question: what value does this panel provide its members?
Toluna’s answer is that the panelist’s online activity must be entertaining, engaging and enable users to express their opinions and compare others. By developing and implementing Web 2.0 concepts, Toluna is helping to define the next generation of research panels, namely panel communities.
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