Researchers, like practitioners in similar highly specialized disciplines, have the tendency to throw around certain terms which, if you are a non-researcher, simply fly over your head.

One of these research terms is ‘a panel’ which, more often than not, is used interchangeably with ‘sample’. What exactly is a research panel, why is it often confused for a sample, how does it work and are there tips on working with panels?

Understanding Research Panels

A research panel is a group of respondents recruited by research companies to that take part in a survey by answering specific research questions in several sessions over a period of time – a week, month or even years.

Many panels are constituted for quantitative research as a representative sample of a general population. Research panels are more often than not created around interests or around specific products and services such as media audience measurement or consumer insights for the FMCG sector. Through a panel, a researcher is able to track changes in behavior over a period of time – this is also referred to as longitudinal data.

Is There A Difference Between A Panel And A Sample?

A sample is a pool of survey respondents recruited by a research company who are eligible to participate in surveys which can or daily surveys meant to understand behavioral change. A panel is a subset of a sample where survey respondents within the large pool of a research company’s database are recruited based on similar traits to answer questions for the collection of longitudinal data (data from the same person over a set amount of time)

Importance Of Panel Research

The most important trait of panel research as a marketing research method is the quality and usefulness of the data (pdf) which is ultimately determined by the measurements applied by using statistical methods in data analysis that translate the data into information and eventually insights that drive decision making.

The analysis of panel research data such as the continuous consumer purchasing behavior can provide guidance in areas such as pricing, competitor analysis (share of shelf) advertising effectiveness and sales projections.

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  • This method gives you a high response rate as the respondents have expressly opted in and are willing to set aside time to participate in the surveys.
  • Due to the diversity and size of panel members, marketers are able to record behavioral changes across different demographics.
  • There is more depth in detail in the panel research insights as data analysts are able to co-relate psychographic & demographic data to have a better understanding of the research subject.
  • Recruitment of research panels on mobile and internet are cheaper and more convenient due to the growing population of mobile and internet users in the world.
  • The cost of recruitment for mobile/online panels is minimal as there is no need to print out questionnaire or travel (focus groups). However, the form of incentives to respondents can drive up the cost.
  • Because the panel has been created around a specific focus area of interest it is easier to engage the respondents as they are familiar with your organisation and the information you are seeking from them


  • The cost of acquiring and retaining a panel can drive up the overall project cost due to a high churn rate which is sometimes as a result of the length of questions or low incentives.
  • Sometimes respondents can compromise the quality of data by failing to give honest information about themselves or their behavior. More often than not, such respondents are in it for the incentives and didn’t sign up to help you. It’s therefore important to routinely validate your panel for authenticity randomly and on a regular interval to preserve the quality of data.
  • Although emerging markets such as Africa are seeing increased mobile and internet penetration rates, there is still a huge percentage of the population that remains offline. Naturally, those who will be recruited to join mobile or online panels are those with devices or are online. It is therefore advisable to combine various modes for your panel depending on topic or area of focus and if there is a need to have a nationally representative sample.
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Focus groups as one tool in panel research
                                                     Focus groups as one tool in panel research

Panel Research Methods

In order to carry out research studies using a panel to evaluate the thoughts and feelings of a population, there are several different styles of collecting data that you may choose depending on your needs. These include:

  1. Filling out a diary
  2. Focus groups
  3. Online surveys
  4. Mobile surveys

The Growth Of Mobile & Online Panels

Traditionally, panel research has been used as a qualitative method. Under this method, the most popular and effective tool for collecting longitudinal data has been focus groups which are interview based sessions in which moderator interviews panelists to collect the data from the same sample over and over again.
Another tool within panel research has been the diary method where respondents take notes in a book or journal documenting what they did, watched or bought over time. This diary tool has been very popular in the past especially in collecting audience measurement data.

Due to advancements in technology coupled with the need for market research agencies to deliver fast, reliable and cost-effective solutions to a data-driven marketplace has led to the adoption of mobile and online surveys which have proved effective in efficiency, quicker turn-around times, and at times, at a fraction of the cost.

Recruiting A Research Panel

There are various channels and modes that can be used to recruit respondents who will become an active sample in a panel. GeoPoll has found that two modes, mobile & online, are the most effective for recruiting new panels of survey respondents, with mobile being the most ideal in emerging markets.

The channels within the mobile mode can vary, going from text messages (SMS), mobile web or mobile app, to voice calls such as those used in Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) methods. Online recruitment modes include email, social media, and digital advertising. In order to effectively recruit a panel, we send them a short survey that collects crucial demographic information such as their gender, age, education level, and social economic status. 

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Our Panels & Capabilities

We currently have a database of over 240 million active users. As the leading mobile surveying platform in emerging markets, our media audience measurement, brand health tracking and customer satisfaction tracking solutions provide marketers with consumer insights drawn from our numerous mobile-based research panels.

Apart from recruiting panels for our research solutions, GeoPoll provides multiple ways for market research agencies who need to use our platform to recruit panels through either mobile SMS, mobile web or mobile app.

If you have questions on how to utilize our sample or you’d like to partner with us to recruit a panel, please get in touch with us