What’s All The Fuss About Online Community Panels?

So you’ve probably heard the term “panel” and “community” used separately. Some even suggest it isn’t possible to have the best of both of these concepts in one. But in fact it’s absolutely possible and being used for market research purposes right now!

At Vision Critical, we take all the great things about an online panel and all of the great things about an online community, and put them together. So we’re on the same page, here’s a definition of each concept so that we can understand the difference between the two.

  • A Panel is typically large, private, invitation-only environment for sending out surveys. Panels give clients easy, longitudinal access to customers. Interaction is only one-on-one and members don’t get to interact with each another.
  • A Community is typically small and intimate. Members can talk to one another and start their own conversations about topics they want to discuss. Client’s lead more focused discussions and members also generate their own content.

There are many benefits to an online community panel – here’s a list of the most prevalent:

Benefit 1: Larger Quantitative Base Plus Intimate Discussions:
With Online Community Panels you get the bonus of a larger sample base for quantitative data, interactive visual surveys, as well as intimate conversations between smaller groups of members through both client focused and member generated discussion forums.

Benefit 2: Target Who You Want To Hear From:
Larger groups are invited to participate in surveys and smaller groups participate in discussion forums. You invite different groups and segments to participate in different activities and projects depending on what your information needs are.

Benefit 3: Use The Right Tool From The Toolbox:
Surveys, forums, photos, highlighter, collage, quantifiable projective techniques, and more. Pick the right tool to meet your business needs and research objectives.

Benefit 4: Save Money And Do More:
Having a 2-in-1 eliminates the duplicated cost of running the two separately and also reduces the need for more expensive, traditional research. Having longitudinal, real time access to your best customers, means you can reach out to them whenever you need to and get insights back right away.

There are also many practical implications to consider before starting a community panel, including: size, incentives, target, brand affinity, blind/branded, engagement, reporting, response rates, health, resourcing, and more. I’ll discuss these topics in future blog posts.


Ellie Sykes
I’ve been a part of Vision Critical’s community development and evolution since I joined in November 2006. My research background is largely in moderating, ethnography, and online community management.

The aim for the Community blog is to share best practices and some of the lessons learned from running online communities and community panels at Vision Critical. I’ll also take the frequently asked questions our team gets about running private communities and community panels and try to answer them in a succinct way.

Online Communities Handbook: Building your business and brand on the Web

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