Panel Engagement during COVID-19

Published Apr 29, 2020

Phil Ahad, Chief Digital Officer

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1.     In the coronavirus crisis, how engaged are panelists? What should researchers expect from response rates?

So far, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen both an increase in panel engagement and new panelists that have  signed up to participate in surveys with us.  In each country where a lockdown was imposed, panel engagement increased between 10-15% and new panel sign-ups have increased by up to 15%.  In addition, the use of mobile devices during this time period has increased by nearly 2X. 

We expected an increase in panel activity as people are looking for ways to fill their day.  The result of this increase means that projects are completed faster (at Toluna, on average 500 survey responses can be collected in less than 1 hour, in most major markets).   

During this time, people are far more likely to be on their mobile devices than traditional desktop and laptops so it’s critical that your surveys and research projects are mobile-friendly or that you target specific devices to ensure the highest quality research.

2.     Is there a difference in response rates before and since the lockdowns in Europe and the U.S.?

Due to the increase in volume and traffic, we are seeing higher response rates, especially for traditionally harder to reach targets and demographics.  New panelists are fueling this increase in volume. During the pandemic, we are seeing a 20% increase in survey activity from new joiners – which is exciting.   As is always the case, every new panelist goes through a thorough screening and profiling process which weeds out any poor quality or potentially fraudulent behavior while allowing us to collect rich profiling attributes for targeting. 

3.     What about response rate quality? A frequent question is that with the increase in responses, how is quality being assured?

A rock-solid quality strategy and many layers of checks are critical to ensuring research quality.  In times like this, quality measures are even more critical due to significant increases in traffic and volume.  Verifying quality is not as simple as implementing a single solution like bot detection, IP verification, or double opt-in. It’s multi-layered as there are many potential threats and ways to defraud a panel.  The quality checks that we use begin during the registration process and carry through the lifetime of the panelist.  We leverage a combination of internally developed technology and multiple 3rd party software solutions that are applied throughout the registration process and include checks pre, during, and post-survey quality measures.  

Nearly 99% of all fraud and poor-quality panelists are caught before or during the registration process to ensure the research is not affected.  In addition to our automated checks, we conduct a significant amount of human checks such as panel health and profile confirmation.  Quality is a moving target, new threats come up all the time and we have invested heavily in stopping them before they affect any research. 

4.     Why is Toluna’s panel still so strong?

Toluna is uniquely positioned in this market due to owning and managing one of the industry’s largest consumer panels while also supplementing that asset with a large network of specialty panel partners to supplement our respondent reach when needed.  Our panel is more active than most of our competitors because it is simply not a database or managed list of people.  Toluna provides members with  a social environment where panelists can engage with each other and join sponsored quantitative and qualitative research studies.   A big reason why we have not seen any negative effect on panel activity due to the pandemic is that our panelists don’t have to wait for an email invite to join a study.  They simply open the Toluna app or log into their Toluna.com account and start engaging and influencing brands, products, and solutions.  We collect over 1 million survey responses a day across 68 markets through our proprietary panel asset.

5.     Should people even be engaging in online research now? If so, what type of research has validity during a crisis? Do the research results have a lifespan post-crisis?

Research, and understanding consumers is important, especially during uncertain times. Consumer behavior and sentiment have changed — and in times of change, it’s more important than ever to better understand thoughts, opinions, and potential trends. How else would you know about changes in sentiment without asking questions? 

For example, brands are now communicating often about how they are supporting and assisting in the pandemic relief.  Understanding your brand perception pre, during, and post an event like this has never been more valuable.  Are consumers appreciative, and now more loyal, due to a brands relief effort? Or do they feel the brand is simply taking advantage of the situation to promote themselves?  I saw a hilarious meme the other day where an airline was promoting their relief efforts and under the heading was the note “Yea, but where were you when my bag was .01 lbs over the limit??”.  Obviously, this is just one example, and one person’s response (although liked and laughed at by many), illustrates the importance of understanding how your message will resonate with consumers.  Your brand needs to know if your target audience cares about your COVID response, has heard enough about it or would simply rather hear about your cool products and helpful services. 

6.     How do panelists feel about being asked questions about typical new product development questions like bottle shapes? What is the appropriateness with countries in lockdown? Some questions might seem frivolous in the current situation.

We’ve conducted research on research to ensure that we are sensitive to our panelists and our approach to communications during this time.  We’ve seen panelists excited and eager to participate in research studies and help shape future products and provide their opinions. 

Our participation and engagement levels have increased by 10-15% in most regions.  We are seeing more and more people log into their accounts and join the panel than ever before.  In some cases, people have a lot of time on their hands and are looking for something to do and wouldn’t mind making a little extra income.  This is where research and survey participation can be a fun distraction. 

We are all hoping to get to a new normal as soon as possible and offering your opinion is one of the most normal things to do. 

Stay safe and stay strong!

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