Harnessing the Power of Market Research Panels: Enhancing Participant Diversity and Reach in Behavioral Science Research

Leib Litman, PhD

Have you ever wondered how you could tap into the minds of millions of people worldwide for your research? Well, we’ve got the answer for you – market research panels! 

We’ve recently shared our experience and insights of using market research panels in a paper published in the journal Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, but we break it down in a more digestible way here.

Market research panels are your gateway to virtually any group of respondents, no matter how niche or hard-to-reach. Unlike microtask platforms like MTurk, which typically have around 100K active yearly users, these panels reach over 100 million potential participants worldwide. That’s right – 100 million!

Diversity in Research Participants

The advantage of market research panels lies in their size and diversity. They provide access to a vast pool of participants, allowing for more representative sampling, precise demographic targeting, and access to hard-to-reach groups.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Imagine you’re conducting an online research project aiming to recruit 500 parents in the United States. Half of these parents have children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and half do not. You also want to balance the sample between mothers and fathers. Sounds like a challenging task, right? Not with market research panels!

Our paper introduces an important concept in sampling that we call  ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ targeting. Level 1 targeting uses demographic information that participants have already shared with the panel (like parental status), while Level 2 targeting occurs within the survey, allowing researchers to find participants who meet highly-specific criteria that the panel has not asked about (like having children with Autism Spectrum Disorder). While Level 1 targeting is available on both market research panels and microtask platforms, Level 2 targeting capabilities are exclusive to market research panels.

This innovative approach, combined with the use of quotas, allows researchers to control their sample composition and reach specific segments of the population in ways that smaller platforms cannot. This gives researchers a high degree of flexibility and control over their participant recruitment and data collection, making market research panels a powerful tool for behavioral science research.

The Magic of Level 2 Demographic Targeting: Beyond Basic Demographics

Level 2 targeting truly shines when you need to dive deep into specific niche groups or unique populations. For example, beyond just identifying parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you could target individuals who have other health conditions that are not typically profiled by panels such as osteoarthritis, GERD, or diabetes. Want to study the behavior of people who are avid bird-watchers, or those who practice urban farming? Perhaps you’re interested in studying the experiences of people who have adopted pets during the pandemic, or those who have taken a gap year to travel the world. 

With Level 2 targeting, you’re not just limited to basic demographics; you can tap into a wide array of human experiences, behaviors, and affiliations. It’s like having a magnifying glass that lets you zoom into the exact group you want to study, ensuring your research is both accurate and efficient. These are just a few examples, but the possibilities are endless.

Recruit Hard-to-Reach Groups and Manage Data Quality

So, what’s the takeaway here? Market research panels are an underutilized form of online sampling in the social sciences. They provide access to broad sections of the population in many countries around the world and allow researchers to control sample composition and reach specific segments of the population in ways that smaller platforms cannot.

Of course, no online participant recruitment method is perfect. Larger participant pools mean that market research panels can have a hard time maintaining data quality. But the paper describes unique methods to improve data quality, such as redirecting anyone who fails attention checks out of a study, and a process known as reconciliation.

We hope you find this guide useful in helping you to run effective online research studies. To supplement this blog, we’ve also made a video tutorial for how to set up a panel study. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions. Happy researching!

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