In working with over a hundred different Community Panels over the past four and a half years there has been one aspect that I have found to be the most compelling: that they are all so different. It has been remarkable how each panel adopts its own unique personality. This can likely be attributed to the interaction of the community members and the panel manager(s) behind the curtain (usually a team of at least one client with their Account Manager consultant). These two forces are unique in and of themselves and the relationship they create together are embodied in the panel.
This uniqueness is often what provides the power behind the research; however, it also drives complexity when insights are needed from diverse stakeholder groups; complexity which may necessitate adopting a multi-panel strategy. So, what is a 'multi-panel strategy' then? It is an approach to panel based research whereby two or more Community Panels are setup and each is operated independently of the other. Taking this approach can be a significant investment of resources but it is often necessary and we will explore why.
Reasons for developing more than one Community Panel
First, let us make the assumption that there exist the necessary business drivers for research in multiple stakeholder groups; in these cases there are a few key reasons why a multi-panel strategy should be pursued.
- The stakeholder is the single most important determinant. The key to a panel that returns well on the investment is engagement. For example, creating a properly optimized engagement plan for a Community Panel of both consumers and business partners would be quite difficult. You may want to provide your consumers with a sweepstakes but that is often not an appropriate option for your business partners. For them, you may want to create reports and knowledge assets to share as incentives as these may be more effective.
- Research objectives are also a key factor in choosing a multi-panel approach. Often these originate from geographic or regional segments, brand splits or sharply diverging product lines. In these cases the needs from the Profiling Questionnaire can be very different; so different that in fact trying to capture the necessary information can become convoluted and confuse future analysis. Furthermore, engagement can lose focus as you try to satisfy the needs of all of your members.
Benefits of running more than one Community Panel
Pursuing a multi-panel strategy rather than using a 'one-size-fits-all' approach recognizes that panelists are real people and that we are pursuing genuine relationships with them as individuals. However, it is also beneficial to the organisation.
- As noted above pursuing a multi-panel strategy can contribute to protecting your investment. A Community Panel takes significant resources both monetary and in personnel and it is important to maximize its value. If, for example, a B2B segment was layered on top of a Consumer segment it becomes tricky to share back the right information and also drive its value by making it accessible. I can relay from experience that a member of a B2B Community Panel is there to contribute to the partnership with your company. If you are not contributing back to them sufficiently with insights and new knowledge they will not be around for long.
- Another benefit is that by having separate Community Panels it can be easier to manage and thus less burdensome. Research teams and research objectives can be clearly divided and data is quickly accessed and pulled for analysis. It is a common challenge to pull the right sample for a particular study then finding the proper attributes from the Profiling Questionnaire to dig deeper into the data also becomes simplified.
Employing a multi-panel strategy is a complex endeavor and often requires either solid experience with Community Panel research or a partnership with a supplier that can provide that experience (ideally you would have both). However, this path can often help to simplify the research process and also provide long term benefits to the investment in Community Panels as a whole.