One Way to Improve Survey Quality in the U.S.: Properly Valuing Participants - Articles



One Way to Improve Survey Quality in the U.S.: Properly Valuing Participants

Administrator | 03 May, 2024 | Return|

By Frank Kelly, MR Practice Lead, Virtual Incentives


The quality of survey participants remains a pressing concern for research agencies. While marketing messaging often highlights unique methods for identifying and purging poor respondents, it seems the industry may be overlooking the root issue: inadequate compensation for participants' time. Recent research indicates a significant gap between expectations and reality when it comes to quantitative research incentives.

At the Insights Association Annual Conference, Frank Kelly from Virtual Incentives, in collaboration with John Bremer of Phantom4Associates, presented two studies aimed at understanding survey participants' feelings about incentives and research participation. The findings revealed dissatisfaction with incentive levels and frustration with the screening and qualification processes.

The first study surveyed individuals who had either never been part of a panel or had stopped participating. Among those who discontinued panel participation, only 4% cited a dislike for surveys, while a staggering 49% felt the compensation was inadequate. Typically, survey panel compensation ranges between $1 and $2 per hour, excluding the time spent qualifying for surveys, which often goes uncompensated or is poorly incentivized. Participants expressed a preference for $2 for a 15-minute survey, which is four times the current compensation rate.  

Think of research panels as reservoirs of water; demands exceed replenishment, leaving the reservoirs depleted. We must identify new, high-quality sources to maintain fresh, abundant, and palatable water. Reduced incentives have led to a decline in quality sources, leaving us to sift through subpar respondents. Doubling the level of incentives would only add about $0.50 to the cost of each survey but would dramatically increase the number of people interested in taking surveys.

In the past, panels were large and well-profiled, with companies using profile data to target occasional survey takers effectively. Today's panels are smaller, with less useful profile data, requiring participants to undergo extensive, repetitive screening to qualify for studies. This has driven away casual survey takers, leaving a highly active but potentially biased group. Our second study revealed that the average participant earned $128 per year from surveys, equivalent to completing 320 surveys annually, potentially impacting brand awareness and key metrics.


Research panels offer distinct quality advantages over non-panel sources, as response quality can be evaluated over time. Incentives typically represent about 10% of the interview cost. Increasing this to 20% could rejuvenate panel growth and address many quality issues stemming from insufficient participant recruitment. Encouraging screening participation and utilizing screening data for future studies could streamline qualification processes. Without addressing these challenges, we risk being left with only low-quality respondents.



A longtime access panel executive at Ipsos, Kantar and Nielsen, Frank Kelly recently joined Virtual Incentives to tackle research participant engagement issues and incentive strategy.




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