Online presents new challenge for market research

16 Nov 2008

Online research panels and social communities were firmly on the agenda at the ESOMAR Panel Research 2008 conference, which was held recently in Dublin, and was attended by more than 200 delegates from 30 countries.

The whole future direction of panels was questioned, with the programme committee chair, Niels Schillewaert (pictured), of the opinion that classic access panels are currently overheated. “Opportunities lie in the evolution towards a combination of high-quality, dedicated (eg branded, in-house) panels, and sourcing new platforms that rely and embed the web’s newest semantic developments (eg social media),” he said. “The future of the market research industry needs to embrace collaboration and connections between end-users, agencies and participants.”

He said he believed the conference would in future see more papers centred around communities; mobile research; engaging participants; the convergence of research, social media and conversations; and dedicated in-house panels. “Therefore, we may consider repositioning and renaming this conference, as we need to move on to the next generation of sourcing and panels.”

Future Human

While online panels clearly have the advantages of speed and lower costs, they have not been proven to always provide accurate data, said Anne Crasswell, NADbank, and Judy Rogers, Research Solutions & Consulting, Canada. They were outlining the results of a recent Canadian experiment to determine, amongst other things, how online results resembled or differed from current telephone survey methodology and the consistency of different online panel suppliers.

The experiment involved collecting five sets of data, four online and one from a random telephone survey, to measure daily newspaper readership in three Canadian cities. Findings from the experiment, according to the speakers, indicate that a web-based panel does not provide a representative sample, and that different online panels produce different results. “It would not appear to be the time to move from the current telephone survey platform to the type of online panel used by commercial market research firms for multiple clients,” they said.

“Next steps will be to explore alternative mechanisms for recruiting online panel members, so that they more closely resemble a random sample of the population at large,” they continued. “It is still early days and a great deal of exploratory work will need to be done to assure ourselves that the new research protocols provide businesses with the data they need to make sound decisions.”

In his keynote address, Lorenz Bogaert of Netlog in Belgium spoke of the benefits of virtual social communities which, with some 600 million users, offer the largest research panel on earth. He said that brands on social networks simultaneously reach core buyers, ambassadors and influencers.

Matthew Rhodes, FreshNetworks UK, said the industry needs to understand how online research communities work alongside panels. “The two approaches have different characteristics and add value in different circumstances. It is not as simple as: panels are dead, long live communities.”

By Grainne Rothery

Pictured: Niels Schillewaert, programme committee chair of the ESOMAR Panel Research 2008 conference, held recently in Dublin

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