We get a lot of inquiries about how to join our panel or participate in our focus groups, and consequently we spend a lot of time explaining that we don’t maintain this kind of recruiting list for participants.  (We custom recruit for almost all our groups.  We’ll explain why below.)  Some questions come from people who have just participated in research for the first time and are shocked that it wasn’t a scam, and enjoyed being paid to share their thoughts. Others are old hands at research participation and consider it a form of employment.  Hopefully this post will help both potential participants and those who commission and conduct market research understand why recruiting from a list of interested parties is undesirable.

In a quick search, I easily found several sites helping people get on a list (here and here).  I personally like the photos of happy people in the video and the association of market research with telemarketers in the last link…arghh!  For another 2.1 million links for paid surveys, click here.

Now, I’m not against the entrepreneurial spirit of earning a buck, but professional respondents are not good for our industry and therefore not good for our clients.  Especially when they start to misrepresent themselves in order to participate.  WHY?  Completing the survey (or other research mode) and earning the incentive becomes their only objective.  The problem is only compounded when respondents outright lie to qualify for the survey.  And as respondents take more and more surveys, they become more skilled in learning how to ensure they’ll make it past the screener questions and qualify.  Additionally, there is potential concern that respondents who become too skilled at taking surveys – even when not cheating – may not give quality responses due to lack of focus.  Or they may just become “tuned” to marketing in their everyday lives, and in a sense be too sophisticated to represent the “average person” targeted by the marketing campaign.

This goes back to the core tenet of survey research – sampling.  If your sample is not representative of your target population, then accurate conclusions cannot be drawn.  The only group that cheaters represent are cheaters themselves (and even then they wouldn’t fill out the survey correctly!).  Even when not cheating, similar problems arise from using “professional participants” who are not representative because they’ve become “experts” at awareness of marketing.

And this isn’t just some methodology-obsessed research firm speaking either.  Big companies are having concerns too.  A recent BusinessWeek article on the quality of online polling noted that P&G is enforcing stricter guidelines when conducting Web polling.  The article cites one instance in which two different surveys came to two completely different results regarding the attractiveness of a product.

So what can we do?  Stay tuned for an upcoming post on ways to limit professional respondents, cheaters, or respondents who are just plain lazy.