At FlexMR we have been running online communities and panels for 8 years, so we know a thing or two about the different options available. If you are just starting out in this area you might feel a little lost amongst the terminology, particularly when it comes to describing panels and communities - or even a 'community panel'! This is because sometimes when your stakeholders talk about a panel, they mean a community and when they talk about community they mean a panel!
Here is an easy description of each, to dispel the confusion for ever more.
A Panel is a database of participants who have registered their interest in taking part in research activities for your company or brand. An online panel contains large volumes of people that are ready to respond to your research requests.
The benefit of building an online panel is that they significantly improve response rates and speed up turnaround of research. You need a panel if you want to conduct regular surveys with your customers in response to business needs and demands. You need to manage that online panel well to ensure that you achieve good breadth and size in your samples.
Scale is the key benefit to having an online panel - but it doesn't happen by magic; panels need care and management (regular communications, rewards and updating of information at least) to ensure that your customers are ready to give feedback when you need it and to help manage the reputation of your brand with this large group of customers.
A Research Community is an actively engaged group of participants who regularly share and discuss ideas. In a community customers will discuss openly and collaborate around topics (as opposed to a panel where they respond in private, one to one surveys). A community is somewhere to talk.
A research community is qualitative by nature. It is defined by peer-to-peer involvement. They should be open and encourage interaction. Their key benefit is their responsiveness and their ability to uncover issues without direct prompting. The collaborative nature often results in more feedback too.
You need a research community if you want to explore depth and detail around your topic, if you have lots of qualitative questions. They are also really good for flagging up to you first when an issue is arising amongst customers and a great place to source ideas for new innovations.
Creating Synergy by Mixing Methods
You can achieve your research objectives without any on-going commitments to having an online panel by using a research community through pop-ups or short term projects. You can have a permanent community within a panel (as a subset of customers) and you can 'pop-up' a full community with a specific group of customers for a short period of time, but we need to be careful about mixing the definitions of communities and panels as, by their very nature, they are different things.
Panels and community are great friends - they work well together and if you are looking to engage with your customers long term then it makes sense to use both of them as they help take care of each other. But, I hope if you are just considering your first online research it is now easier for you to understand what will achieve what you need! I'd very much like to hear your description...
To book a free trial of the FlexMR research platform and make use of our wide range of quant & qual tools, click here. Or, click here to read more about the flexible service levels we can provide.