Millions give up their time each year to participate in opinion polls and surveys. Such people are the lifeblood of the market research industry.
Despite this, as market researchers we seem to give surprisingly little thought to what motivates so many to share their opinions with us. But we know from academic literature as well as practical experience that paying people (especially upfront) is effective. As a result, much survey data stems from large online panels of people who are financially rewarded for for their time.
This approach is, however, under growing pressure, with research companies finding it increasingly difficult to recruit panellists and retain their interest over time. Consequently, while the somewhat apocalyptic predictions of the demise of online panels may be premature, change is nonetheless in the air.
To reinvent itself the panel industry firstly needs to take a step back to better understand the intrinsic factors that motivate survey participants, assessing why they find contributing to surveys satisfying, or not as the case may be. We can hypothesize that people join panels for any number of reasons. Some simply take pleasure in sharing their opinions, on some topics at least, and in other instances they may feel a sense of duty to complete surveys, to help make things better or share the benefit of their experience. It’s clearly not just the money.
However, as researchers we repeatedly undermine our relationship with these willing survey-takers by subjecting them to long, dull questionnaires (guilty as charged) for a paltry reward, and sometimes rejecting them in an offhand fashion for failing to meet recruitment criteria. In short, we successfully undermine both their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, a sure-fire recipe for attrition. And ironically, rather than harnessing technology to engage people in research by making it more interesting and easy, we seem rather to have deployed it to increase panelist commoditization, so intensifying the current malaise.
A panel powered by altruism?
Against this backdrop, research agency Vivi was born in response to a simple question: is there another way to motivate people to complete surveys? We believe there is. Perhaps.
Our panel consists of people who complete surveys in order to raise money for a cause they care about. So Vivi is in effect a new kind of giving channel, a convenient way for people to raise funds for charity by completing surveys.
This has significant implications for our relationship with Vivi panellists. When people give to charity it is not simply a transactional relationship, it becomes a way for them to express their values and identity – to complete numerous surveys you have to genuinely care about a cause. We have to respect that by keeping panellists informed about the positive impact their time is having in concrete terms with regular updates from the charities they support. This is, in effect, their reward.
It’s still early days for Vivi, so we can’t draw any firm conclusions about the benefits and pitfalls of a panel powered by altruism. But we are in the process of growing a large, diverse and engaged community of consumers. What’s more, we’ll be raising significant sums for partner charities.