What is an online research panel? – Qualitative research methods

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Published on

August 16, 2016
Time to read: 3 minutes

Maybe you’re thinking about using an online research panel for your next big project, or perhaps you’ve just been asked by a local researcher to take part in one. Regardless, you may be wondering exactly what the panel is, or how valuable it is in the overall research process.

If this sounds like you, or if you’re just interested in learning more about qualitative research techniques in general, check out this blog!

The online research panel explained

Let’s start by stripping this right back to the basics: An online research panel is a – you guessed it – closed internet forum where researchers pose questions for participants to answer.

These answers can be private (seen by the researchers alone) or public (shared with the rest of the participants, perhaps in order to start a conversation). While responses can be text-based, they might also be shared via video, audio, or photos.

Online research panels are an incredibly useful tool for researchers. Most people now have access to a connected device, and can easily get online to answer questions. A panel allows us to easily reach respondents across a massive area (from the chilly North of Scotland, to urban London, to the sunny Cornish coast), in a time-and-cost effective way.

There are also many practical benefits as well: researchers can check that participants have engaged with the stimulus (for example, a new TV show or ad campaign) before they show up to the group – no more gut-wrenching fears that a panellist will not have watched a new show before the group session! Panels also let researchers engage directly with the audience, letting them ask follow up questions when respondents give particularly powerful or complex answers.

online research panel - Hook Research

Who else do panels help?

Not only do online research panels help researchers, but also benefit respondents as well.

For one, private panels are completely confidential, and create a safe space where individuals (no matter how shy they might be) can share their thoughts without fear of being judged. We can also chat with harder to reach audiences through these panels: many people have demanding careers or family lives and these panels allow respondents to answer in their own time, without having to take too much time out of their frantic schedules.

In particular, we’ve found that younger respondents are naturals at sharing their thoughts in an online research panel – as the software we use mirrors the interfaces they are accustomed to on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Participants aren’t the only ones benefiting. Clients can view responses on their computers from the comfort of their own offices, and can quickly see how the research is developing day by day. Confidential stimulus can also be shared directly with the panellists, eliminating the costly need to send out new shows or copy individually.

What kind of projects benefit from a panel? (Hint: it’s most of them)

Say – for example – you’re testing new scheduling for a new TV show, and you want to gain some insight into what people are doing in their homes at 10 pm. Or perhaps the project is bigger, and your research needs to include five different countries…. and you want to provide rapid, on-going feedback to your clients throughout the entire process.

It’s a no-brainer – an online research panel is definitely the way forward.

At Hook Research, we often use online panels to start the conversation around big research queries – check out this link to find out more about our unique 4D Methodology and where panels fit. And if you want to have a chat about how panels could benefit your next project, get in touch with us today!


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