These days researchers are looking for quicker and cheaper ways to get data. The arrows in their quiver often include more expensive resources like syndicated databases (Nielsen, IRI, etc.), as well as some form of primary survey research tool – or access to that type of data through a vendor.
One easy and affordable idea that researchers and business practitioners should explore is creating their own online research panel. The purpose is to collect quick insights and recommendations from people you know and respect who are part of your business network.
Understanding the purpose
Before creating your informal panel, it’s critical to have a solid understanding its exact purpose and scope. What type of information would you like to get out of it? What would be most relevant helpful to you or your team? Are you testing creative concepts that are more visual or are you vetting potential ideas for a new product design? Once you’ve wrapped your head around the why behind your panel, it’s time to evaluate the how, and that means technology.
Choosing the technology
This is the technology you’ll use for collecting the feedback in an organized fashion. Depending on the topic, you may want to invest in some inexpensive cloud based survey technology or just use one of the many free or inexpensive survey tools available. Once you’ve decided what type of outputs would be ideal and the technology you’d like to use, you’re ready to find your membership.
Deciding on membership
More formal panels have thousands, sometimes millions, of panel members that participate in a variety of research types. This is NOT what we’re creating here. Using your panel’s purpose as a foundation, you should now begin to leverage your personal and social networks to create a list of candidates. The list could be as small as 10 or could number in the hundreds; it’s your panel, so you decide how robust it needs to be. Plus, you can always add more or scale it back later if needed.
Don’t just choose people you like or those you think will massage your ego. Go for the most qualified and responsive experts in your network. This will lead to more useful results.
Recruiting the membership
Once you’ve got your list in hand you need to get some “opt-ins.” This is the process in which you get your targeted list of potential panelists, or candidates, to agree to be a part of this special group and receive ongoing communication from you. It’s very important to be clear about why they were chosen for this panel, what you expect of them on-going, and how you plan to leverage their feedback in the future. Once you’ve carefully crafted this communication, you’re ready to send it out and watch your panel begin to come together. Obviously, you should only contact people whom you know and who expect to receive communication from you – such as your LinkedIn connections.
To send out the invitation, you can simply create an email distribution including your candidates and send out an email with a voting button to make things simple. Or you can use your chosen survey tool to collect opt-ins plus any demographic info you’d like to leverage later. Just remember, this is supposed to be somewhat informal, so don’t get carried away with getting “extra info.” You could potentially scare some of your candidates off by asking too many personal questions.
Also, you’re going to want to thank your panel group for their sacrifice in some tangible way. Depending on the make-up and size of the group, thank yous could range from taking people out to dinner to mailing out modest gift cards with a hand written thank you. You may want to consider stating your intentions to reward the group up front; this will likely increase the receptivity from your candidates.
We have lift-off
Now we’re ready to rock n’ roll. Start with something simple for your first piece of research. This will allow everyone to dip their toes into the process, but prepare yourself, some more enthusiastic members may cannonball from the get go. Take a look at the data that’s coming in and use it to improve your process moving forward. You may want to include that as part of your questions for the group: “How can I make this research process better?”
Nobody’s perfect, so just improve on each aspect as you go.
Some final tips
Three words to always remember: Respect, respect, respect. People’s time and brain energy are precious and you will be leveraging both here. Stay in-line with the expectations you originally communicated to the group and keep the research as tight and straightforward as possible. This will keep response quality high and your panel very happy.
Josh Pelham is a currently a Manager of Research at AMG Strategic Advisors, the research and strategy division of Acosta Marketing Group. As a career researcher, Josh has worked for both large and small research firms from the supplier side. He enjoys working with creative and innovative thinkers, as well as sharing his thoughts and observations on marketing, research, and design.