Custom online research panels continue to offer an efficient way of collecting survey feedback from participants. Custom panels often make research speedier, more affordable, and more actionable, but only if they are managed and maintained properly. One of the critical (and often overlooked) elements to properly managing and maintaining a custom panel is regularly scheduled panel refreshment - essential to maintaining a healthy and active panel.
What is Panel Refreshment?
When an individual initially joins a custom online research panel, he or she is asked a series of questions in the panel screener survey. Some responses will never change, such as birth year, but others may, such as satisfaction with your brand, marital status, or zip code. As researchers, we'd love to think that respondents will reach out to us to proactively make these updates when we provide them with tools that allow them to do so. But the reality is, people are busier than ever, and if you want to keep your information fresh and up-to-date, you're going to have to make it really easy on your panelists. That means reaching out to them directly. Maybe that man in Toledo that you were getting ready to invite to a survey about a local restaurant moved six months ago, and now he lives in Seattle. Your invitation is only going to irritate him when he answers a few screener questions and disqualifies. Or, perhaps you're hoping to speak to people with a child of a certain age in the home to talk about a new diaper brand hitting the market. Wouldn't it be good to have recently updated information about which members of your panel have welcomed a child into their family?
It's important to do panel refreshment not just to keep your information on panelists up to date, but also to keep your response rates at efficient levels. A panel refreshment is a perfect opportunity to remove inactive panelists (those who have systematically stopped participating in your surveys) and panelists who no logner qualify for participation (see our man from Toledo above). Keeping your panel up to date keeps your response rates predictable, which helps you manage the fieldwork process more efficiently. It also keeps you out of trouble with the ISPs when you're not sending invitations out to people who have decided they no longer want to participate!
When Should You Do a Panel Refreshment?
That's a good question! And there's no "one-size-fits-all" answer to it. Panel refreshment should be done regularly as part of the panel hygiene process. But panels need hygiene at different rates, depending on their composition, how often they are used, and the criteria that qualify them for participation. A good indicator that it might be time for a panel refresh is reduced response to your survey invitations that can't be attributed to other factors (like holidays, summertime, etc.). Click-through rates are captured by DDG's sample prep department on all online surveys we conduct, and regularly viewed and analyzed by the project manager so that he or she can make recommendations on when it might be time for a refresh. Panel refreshment should be discussed at least annually.
Why Wouldn't We Just Recruit New Panelists Instead?
You're right, this is also a great opportunity to do a panel recruitment. There is no better time to invite new individuals to join a panel than when the panel screener is updated for a refresh. It is typically more affordable and efficient to do refreshment and recruiting at the same time. BUT, you don't want to drop all those existing panelists when you do that. Many of them, by virtue of the length of time they've been in the panel, will be your customers with longer tenure, and removing them from the panel could skew your survey results.
All active panel member should be invited and encouraged to take the panel refreshment survey. DDG knows all the tricks of the trade to get the best response rate on that refresh, including invitation treatments, timing, and incentives.
Just like your home needs updates and maintenance over time, so does your online research panel. The panel refreshment process helps keep panel data current, clean, and ready to meet your business needs. And that's refreshing!