When ThinkNow set out to build what became one of the first nationally representative Hispanic online panels in 2008, we thought a lot about what type of communication would work best with Hispanic panelists. While the concept of online research panels was mature by that time, it was a relatively new concept for Hispanic panelists, specifically first-generation U.S. Hispanics.

At the time, email was the primary and usually exclusive mode of communication from the panel to the panelists. Interestingly, not much has changed over the past decade. Email is still the primary mode of communication from a panel to a panelist in 2018.

But in 2008, the results of a study we conducted among U.S. Hispanics revealed that email could not be the primary mode of communication for a U.S. Hispanic panel at that time for two specific reasons:

  • Increased privacy concerns
  • Less likely to check personal email on a regular basis

Flash forward ten years and the privacy concern is now shared by most Americans and everyone is less likely to check their personal email on a regular basis. However, having these two insights in 2008 enabled us to build a different panel – one attuned to the way U.S. Hispanics communicate.

Bilingual Call Center

We addressed the privacy concerns by setting up a bilingual call center that potential panelists and current panelists could call to address any questions or concerns they had. Panelists called to verify that we were real people or if they were having problems with a survey. We came to realize that being able to call in and talk to a real person increased our recruitment rates. It also had the unintended benefit of improving our response and retention rates.

The call center also helped us address the second issue of U.S. Hispanics being less likely than the general market to check personal email on a regular basis. During down hours at the call center, we asked representatives to call respondents that hadn’t opened an email invite and remind them to check their email regularly for opportunities to take surveys and earn points and incentives.

New Day, Same Problem, Fresh Ideas

Some ten years later, we are now dealing with a sample industry-wide dilemma of rapidly decreasing response, recruitment, and retention rates. Perhaps it is time for the sample industry to think beyond email to address this rising concern. While our solution was a call center, we now have technologies that offer the same benefits of a call center at a fraction of the cost:

  • SMS reminders – Declining email open rates are a major problem for panels who rely solely on email for survey invitations. Assuming your panel collects mobile numbers, SMS reminders can help boost response rates if you’re in a pinch. Furthermore, for respondents who have opted in to receive SMS reminders, sending relevant information regarding the panel outside of survey invitations can help increase retention rates.
  • AI enabled robocalls – Robocalling software on its own can be counterproductive to response and retention rates on panels. However, with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), you can now track panelist behaviors and set thresholds for certain actions, i.e. has not taken a survey in three months and will likely not take a survey if it goes beyond that timeframe. You can set up AI enabled robocalls that intervene by reminding respondents about the panel and potential incentives before they lapse. This budget-friendly option can also be used for survey invitations and even inbound customer service.
  • Social Media Engagement – While many panels have already been using social media to push out messages to their followers (presumably also panelists), very few panels have used social media as an inbound medium to connect with panelists. Encouraging panelists to reach out via email, social, and SMS is a powerful way to increase response and retention rates because it uses a medium they spend a lot of time on – a mobile device. This is especially relevant for Millennial and Gen Z respondents. Encouraging your panelists to reach out to you via social media (and more importantly having a plan to respond) is a key factor of a successful panelist engagement strategy.

While there have been more bleak and existential views of the decline of sample due to panelist burnout, there are simple ways we can start to buck the trend of panelist disengagement. While email is considered a “ tried and true” communication channel, the reality is, times are changing and email open rates across the board are on the decline. Utilizing new communication tools like text messaging and social media is a simple way to get more out of your panelists while giving them an experience they enjoy.