Lee Powney and Frank SmadjaPanellist engagement: Lee Powney and Frank Smadja Toluna

Web 2.0 has brought dramatic changes to the online panellist experience, enabling them to create and share their own polls and research results. The panel community has arrived on the Web. By Lee Powney and Frank Smadja

Lee Powney
Toluna plc
Head of marketing

2007 Head of marketing, Toluna plc
2007 Corporate marketing manager, Toluna plc
2005 Head of marketing, Mekon systems
2003 Marketing Information Systems (MKIS) consultant, Kingston Business School KTP

Frank Smadja
Toluna Israel
Chief executive

2004 Vice-president engineering co-founder, Rawsugar inc, Haifa Israel
1998 Director of Engineering and CTO Manager of Haifa Site, Elron Software, Haifa, Israel
1996 Founder and CTO, ASAP Ltd, Bnei Brak, Israel
1995 Senior Technical Contributor, Enigma Inc, Herzliya, Israel

The panel community

Web 2.0 has brought dramatic changes to the online panellist experience, enabling them to create and share their own polls and research results. The panel community has arrived on the Web. By Lee Powney and Frank Smadja

The online research market has seen dramatic growth over the past two years. Organisations have embraced the internet as a means of dramatically reducing the data collection costs associated with traditional methods such as postal, telephone and face-to-face interviews. Online panel organisations have seen the most dramatic growth in the market research sector, with both North American and European players providing access to millions of opted-in respondents for online surveys.

For the uninitiated reader, an online panel is simply a group of individuals, recruited via an online portal and motivated through pointsbased incentives, who respond to surveys. The very basic quality management requirements of a panel are to provide a double opt-in procedure, de-duplicate postal and e-mail addresses, collect demographic information for sampling, limit the number of surveys a member can take and provide an incentive/reward mechanism for taking part in a survey.

The downside to this dramatic growth in the number of surveys and panels created in such as short period of time is the over solicitation of panellists and declining response rates to surveys.

At this year’s ESOMAR Congress we presented a study highlighting the possibilities Web 2.0 concepts present to improve panel response rates. One of the most striking results from this study, of over 3,500 members of our panels, showed that providing members with the ability to collect and share opinions is one of the most valued Web 2.0 technology features a site can offer, and is rated 50% higher than the ability to post and share video, for example.

After running online panels in 27 countries with over 1.6 million members, we strongly suggest that higher response rates are dependent on the following two interrelated concepts: profiling depth, and the panellists’ online experience. We also strongly believe that both concepts benefit greatly from a Web 2.0 approach to online panel management.

The panel community evolves
Bearing in mind online panels have audiences of millions, how many communicate a unique value proposition? By definition, panels are brands and their members have formed a relationship with them, but how many base their panellist relationship management (PRM) key performance indicators on user satisfaction? How many have invested in adding value to the panellists’ online experience? How many have considered evolving their panels into panel communities?

A brand relationship, as any brand manager will testify, is based upon a focus to innovate and improve the value provided. Panellist relationship management has yet to evolve as a clear focus for most panel companies, yet panellist retention and interaction is a panel company’s most valuable asset.

To compound matters further for many panel companies, the level of “Web expectation” has dramatically increased in recent years. The spread of Web 2.0 technologies across the internet has led to the evolution of the empowered consumer. Individuals no longer passively digest information from the Web and users now expect to take an active role in the dynamic and continually evolving user-generated, shared and compared content. Consumers now expect to be provided with the tools to generate and publish their opinions.

This is why, for several years we have been encouraging our panellists to express their opinions across hundreds of topics and have invested in sponsoring in-home product tests, prize draws and competitions, all as part of a focused effort to create a community of highly responsive and deeply profiled panellists.

An enriched panellist experience
The next challenge is to move consumer panels forward. Our contribution to this has been to launch a panel community which for the first time in the history of the market research industry, allows members to conduct their own research and share results online and within the panel itself. The Web 2.0 concept, known as “dpolls”, allows users to create a poll and lets the panel community answer that poll. They can then publish it on their blog or webpage. Dpolls is one of the dominant poll widgets on the Web with thousands of active polls being published every day across the world.

Starting in October 2007, panellists will be able to create polls, collect results, participate in discussion threads, interact with one another and leave qualitative opinions on topics such as movies, health or education. Each user has a home page describing themselves and their interests. Responses can be in their tens of thousands and each member can, at anytime, see the demographic comparisons of respondents.

Deeper and better profiling
Put simply, the richer the data available on a panellist, and the more regularly updated this information is, the higher the response rates to a specific survey. By giving opinions, participating in polls created by other users, and generating content, users are providing even more information on themselves, which can then be added to their profiling data and used to reduce burn-out and improve response rates to surveys.

For the first time panellists are creating their own research which, in turn, is fuelling their levels of panel engagement. A satisfying and valuable online experience helps to ensure that panellists provide greater and more regularly updated profiling, share qualitative opinions, and respond to surveys. No longer are monetary rewards the sole basis of the panel – panellist relationship.

Engaging the panellists
In this ever more competitive landscape, with panellists being overwhelmed with requests for surveys, it pays to take a step back from traditional methods of assessing an online panel provider and ask a simple question; what value does this panel provide its members?

It is vital that the panellist’s online activity is entertaining, engaging and enables users to express their opinions and compare others. Developing and implementing Web 2.0 concepts is a key way to define the next generation of research panels; namely panel communities. 

Lee Powney
8 Walpole Court, Ealing Green, London, W5 5ED
T: 020 3058 5000

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