The 4 Imperatives of Panelist Tenure

June 29, 2023

If you are investing in developing a customer community or panel, there is one key factor for on-going success… you want to keep your members for as long as possible. Why? Because…

  • Your recruiting costs will be lower (not having to replace as many panel members as often).
  • Longer-tenured panel members are highly engaged panel members, and highly-engaged panel members deliver better data quality.
  • You will have more flexibility in the types of projects you can field with your members. Highly engaged, high-quality respondents can go beyond online surveys for other kinds of research (e.g., qualitative, in-home usage tests).

Symmetric knows a bit about keeping panel or community members engaged and productive. Our average panel member has been with us for 3½ years. Compare that to the industry average of 3-6 months! We know what it takes to keep panel members engaged.

Here are our four imperatives to increase the tenure of your community or panel members:

Imperative #1: Be Upfront About Your Purpose

Your panel or community members need to understand how their data will be used, so tell them when they sign up. What is the purpose of your panel or community? For a customer community, will customers join to create better products, develop a better customer experience, or increase brand loyalty? For a panel, will members join to have someone listen to their opinions on products and services? Or something else?

For Symmetric, our upfront purpose is for panel members to participate in marketing research surveys to share their opinions on products and services. Set the tone upfront with your panel or community members because your purpose sets member expectations and will determine the behavior you get back from your members.

Imperative #2: Implement a Goldilocks Communications Strategy

What’s a Goldilocks Communication Strategy? Not too much, not too little, but just right.

Offering income opportunities (taking surveys for incentives) one to two times per month is just right for most panels. If you have income opportunities less often than one to two times per month, members lose interest and don’t feel connected to the purpose of your community or panel. Even communicating more than one to two times per week can be too much and cause members to become fatigued, which can lead to poor data quality and eventually have them drop out of the panel.

If you don’t have at least one to two-income opportunities per month, supplement with other communications to keep them active. Send a newsletter or share the results of a recent and timely survey. Maybe implement a fun contest from time to time. Remember to keep it personal; it is to your advantage to develop a relationship and strong rapport with your panel members. Send them an email on their birthday or the anniversary of their joining the panel to let them know you appreciate their continued thoughtful participation.

Imperative #3: Compensate Fairly and In Cash

Compensation is the way you show members you value their feedback and engagement. So, make sure your compensation structure does just that. Resist the urge to underpay participants – even if it means you have to pass on some projects. In the long run, it is better to keep the panel or community members feeling like you are treating them fairly and their time is valued than to succumb to short-term pricing pressure.

Additionally, keep in mind: cash is king. Even among all the other incentive schemes out there (airline miles, coupons, discounts, gift cards, etc.), cash is still the best and most appreciated incentive you can deliver. And, of course, make it simple and easy for community and panel members to understand how they earn incentives and how they receive incentive pay-outs:

  • Communicate clearly.
  • Design your incentive structure so that members earn pay-outs in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Make the process to claim a pay-out simple and easy for members.
  • Deliver incentive pay-outs rapidly. No one likes to wait to get paid!

Imperative # 4: Variety is the Spice of Life

Find opportunities for panel and community members to participate in research methodologies other than online surveys. You know your members’ history of participation, engagement, and data quality. Recruit your best panel or community members to local in-person research opportunities (such as focus groups, taste tests, iHUTs, car clinics) and online research opportunities (such as video focus groups, video shopping experiences, bulletin board discussions, video diaries).

Research methodologies beyond online surveys are more fun and make panel and community members feel valued and appreciated, increasing their loyalty and responsiveness. And that provides you with higher quality respondents and more flexibility in responding to your clients’ requests.


Please don’t take the churn-and-burn approach to panel or community building so typical in our industry. You may be able to replace those members who leave, but your data quality could suffer. Think about creating a long-term relationship with your panel/community members to get the best ROI for you and your clients.

Contact Symmetric today to build a customer community with engaged, responsive members.

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