In the past, the source of panelists for sample was highly scrutinized. We’d get questions like, “Are they recruited from social media?” If there were, many would reject the sample in favor of other sources they deemed more credible. So stringent where sample procurement departments at that time that they even questioned incentives. For example, I remember working with a retailer who did not want to work with our panel because we offered incentives from a competitive retailer. They thought it would skew the results.
Flash forward ten years and not only do sample procurement departments not care where panelists are coming from, but there are entire sample companies built on utilizing incentives from a myriad of retailers, throwing the caution of potential respondent influence to the wind.

So why has sample procurement departments suddenly had a change of heart? In short, scarcity. Respondents are becoming more and more difficult to source. We’ve seen a steady decline in response rates over the last decade. When coupled with the decline in double opt-in to traditional online panels, procurement departments no longer have the luxury of turning down a sample source.

Does that mean that the pitfalls of river sample and potential skews in incentives have just gone away? Not really, but we are now aware of these potential biases and are designing research accordingly.

River Sampling and Traditional Panel Sampling Can Coexist

The recent acquisition of P2Sample by Cint signals a mainstream acceptance of river sample and non-traditional recruitment methods for the sample industry. So, what are the implications of the Cint of P2P Sample for traditional panel companies?

  • Double opt-in is no longer the gold standard – Double opt-in was the gold standard for online panel respondents when online sample first hit the scene because of the assumed veracity of its identity verification. However, with the advent of new online identification techniques, the decline of email usage, and the rise of river sample, double opt-in has lost a little bit of its luster. While it has its place in government and academic research, opt-in panels no longer need to abide by the double opt-in rule. Audit your panel’s identification practices and see if you can implement a verification procedure that will increase the number of respondents you impanel.
  • Get creative with incentives – Brandless incentives are no longer a must for online panels. If you know your target group will respond more favorably if they had an incentive from a specific brand, then go for it! Respondent engagement is the name of the game and sample procurement departments now understand and accept that brandless incentives are not conducive to high response rates.
  • Social media is your friend – there is no longer a wall between social media and sample. Before social media became nearly ubiquitous among online users, there was a fear among sample procurement departments of respondents recruited from social networks. With a nearly 90% penetration rate among online users, Facebook is a great place to recruit respondents. Furthermore, their targeting allows you to zero in on hard to reach respondents or respondents you lack in your panel composition.

Need More Sample?

As more acquisitions happen in the sample space, the pressure for smaller players to deliver sample will become greater. Audit your current panel setup and find the gaps. Start thinking outside of the traditional double opt-in model to see if a less traditional approach can help optimize your panel recruitment strategy.