Communication with panelists: why does it matter?

The phrase "the medium is the message" is one of McLuhan’s more  iconic statements. Who would have guessed that almost four decades after his death, this idea would remain strong. Now, the Internet is the medium, and as we migrate to the digital ecosystem, new ways of communicating have emerged on the road. 

And that’s precisely the topic of this post. We’ll focus on how is the communication established with the members who constitute an online panel. Thanks to an internal investigation in which we did a Mystery Shopping of Panels Online, we will compare how these companies interact with the people in their panel.

As we told you in other entries, our Panel team enrolled in 10 online panels in Latin America, including Netquest panel, and documented different features focused on the panelists experience: how often they are sent surveys, what are the times of response in case of requesting support and if the person is informed about the status of their participation.

First of all, let's step back and talk about how to establish (or promote) a dialogue with panelists.


Ok...How do I say it? 

communication with panelists_2In real life, we value authenticity more than ever. It is no different when it comes to the Internet. And there are ways to be authentic online. 

At Netquest, we believe that this can be achieved with close and friendly contact. Which is why we address directly to our panelists as “you”. (Yes, we skip the Mr., Ms. or Mrs. part.) The tone used in our surveys is clear and easy to understand. We also adapt the questionnaire according to the country, in order to use local expressions and/or words.

A clear example in Latin America: if you need to send a survey in Brazil, we recommend you check the wording of the questions. Because the Portuguese spoken in Portugal is not the same as the one used in the green-yellow country.

Now, let’s get to work. Keep reading and explore the three points we analyzed:


1. Help!: Response time to support requests

There are multiple touchpoints with a panelist. Communication is not reduced to what is written in the invitation to a survey. If a panelist asks for support, the online panel companies evaluated have different response times.

Three out of the ten online panels give immediate return or two hours after the request. Two others, including Netquest panel, respond within a period of up to 48 hours.

One of the companies took a month. In the worst scenario, two companies gave no return to the request for help.


2. Use of pre-configured responses

communication with panelists_1The use of pre-configured responses is a point of debate. While there are those who justify the use of these answers (or macros), there are those who seek to avoid them at all costs.

Among the advantages derived from giving support, the most pointed out is that they allow faster attention to the panelists' requests or doubts. On the other hand, the most obvious disadvantage is that the answers are not personalized. It may seem generic or robotic.

50% of the online panels evaluated use this type of response. In the rest, this option could not be verified. At Netquest, considering the large size of the panel and the capacity of our equipment, we chose to use macros in the resolution of a maximum of 75% of the support cases.

However, before programming and sending a macro in response to our panelist, we review each case individually. This ensures that the answer we will provide is related to the request for help. If we verify that it does not correspond entirely, the macro can be modified to ensure the answer is adequate.

We make an effort to deliver the attention that our panelists deserve, seeking an interaction with real people like them.


3. Communication of the participation status

At the time the panelist opens an invitation to participate, the survey might be already closed or the person might not meet the criteria required for the project (known in the industry as screen out).

It may also occur that you already have the necessary number to cover the sample in a specific quota, and therefore, you don’t need more shares in that particular segment (quota-full).

Always keep in mind to inform the person about the status of their participation. In our opinion, this is part of the communication that the online panel must maintain with its members.

Even so, only four of the ten panels analyzed provide this information. Within these four, Netquest panel is included, which provides an incentive regardless of whether the survey expired, if the person was filtered or if the number of required cases has already been reached.

Four others omit this communication. And in two of the panels this point could not be verified.


At the end...Why is it important?

communication with panelistsThe topics explained above are essential because they have something in common. All revolve around the communication established with the panelist. Either to respond to their needs and concerns or to clarify the status of their participation.

If the panelist voluntarily invests time to answer surveys, we believe that in return, the online panel should maintain a communication that values the effort and commitment of the person. Especially if they have questions or report a problem.

Effective communication encourages the panelists' commitment to the panel, increases the response rates and retention in the community. And this is key for any researcher. Because these improvements directly influence the quality of the results, and consequently, of the research.

Keep reading for more. Check out the full series and read other basic recommendations on online data collection.


INDEX: Mystery Shopping series of online panels

  1. Privacy policies
  2. Quality controls in surveys
  3. Optimal survey frequency

Free ebook - The essentials online data collection

Subscribe to our blog and receive the latest updates here or in your email