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For the past hundred years or so, marketing research has relied on a "push" process. Knock on people's doors, stop them on the street, call them on their landline, cajole and browbeat them till they complete your survey. It's what you needed to do to get a random sample of respondents. That's how we did - and in some cases - still do research.

But just as the Internet has changed practically everything else, it's also changing much of the way we do research.

We now live in more of a "pull" vs. a "push" world. For example, you no longer need to wait to have the news "pushed" towards you in the morning newspaper; you can "pull" it down on your own time using your computer, your phone or your tablet. And so it is with research. Instead of having surveys pushed at you while you're eating dinner, people choose when, where and what kind of research they want to do.

This brings us to the community panel - a research environment that reflects the "pull" world we live in today. It's a community of consumers or citizens united by a shared desire to make their opinion matter. These aren't faceless "respondents" used once and cast aside but customers, people, and co-creators you engage in an ongoing conversation.

Your community panel may not represent a random sample but, as engaged consumers, they can provide even more valuable input into your business decisions, again and again. And to nurture that relationship, they need to be treated differently - with surveys that are fun and engaging, respect their time, and acknowledge the value of their opinion and the impact they make on your business or organization.

Next time you send a survey out to your panel, ask yourself this question: Am I "pulling" a valued friend or colleague into a new conversation, or am I just "pushing" out another survey? If it's the latter, you probably aren't taking advantage of the unique benefits of the community panel.

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