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The Future of Panellist Engagement: Motivating Consumers to Participate in Market Research

by Susan O'Neill.


As media has evolved, so too have the ways we communicate around the issues of importance to us.  Over time, the market research industry has kept pace and reached consumers through the channels of most relevance to them, from mail, to telephone, and now online.

Meanwhile, consumers continue to forge new, more complex social media channels for communicating, demonstrating an insatiable desire for dialogue – not just to have their opinions heard, but to solicit those of others.

Marketers are using social networks to gain insight into consumer attitudes and behaviours. And, market researchers are struggling to ensure statistical significance when companies are relying on untraditional methods to make decisions.

Given this changing environment, AskingCanadians wanted to understand how to motivate Canadians to share their opinions. We wanted to find the answers to the following questions:

  • How can market research leverage this consumer appetite to derive deeper and more nuanced insights?
  • What is it about the research experience that draws consumers to participate and moves them to share their experiences more fully?
  • What are the intrinsic motivations to participate as research subjects that can inform a more user-centric research design?
  • What tools will allow us as researchers to meet consumers where they live, to engage them in ways that are relevant and motivating?
  • What does research need to look like to be effective tomorrow?

To investigate this issue, AskingCanadians partnered with Mary Foster, PhD, a Professor of Marketing at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management to undertake a research study sponsored by the Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

This report outlines the research findings.

Executive Summary

Given the increasing use of online technology to gather information, and the importance of consumer opinions and experiences in driving decisions about the type and range of products offered, marketers are interested in understanding how to engage consumers in sharing their opinions and increasing the quantity and quality of participation in online surveys.

The purpose of this study was to identify the key motivators for consumers to engage in market research and to provide market researchers with an understanding of how to engage consumers in sharing their opinions.

This study focuses on four research questions:

  • Do segments exist within online survey participants?
  • What are the characteristics of the segments?
  • Do the segments differ in motivations to participate in online surveys?
  • What strategies will be effective in enhancing online participation in survey research?

We embarked on the study by first identifying the factors that influence the likelihood that consumers will share their opinions and knowledge with other consumers and with corporations. These factors include the importance of trust, shared values among members of an online community, the role of rewards and the expectation of reciprocity, the perceived value of one’s opinions, altruism; (the sharing knowledge with no expectation of a reward) and privacy, which includes assurances that adequate measures have been taken to protect an individual’s identity.

The segmentation of respondents into social media user groups was another key feature of the study. Because online engagement, especially through social media, is an emerging field, the tendency has been to dichotomize respondents into users and non-users. Instead this study leveraged previous research conducted by Ryerson on social media users and differentiated users by types of online activities and their frequency of use.

Key Findings

The results of the study indicate that respondents engage in three distinct activities online:

a) creating content for others to view and comment on;

b) seeking information and content posted by others; and

c) keeping in touch with friends and family.

Four different groups emerged from the sample: the Social Media Mavens, the Info Seekers, the Socializers and the Minimally Involveds.

The Social Media Mavens represented about seven per cent and scored high on the need for information and the need for interaction online. The second group, the Info Seekers represented 18 per cent and scored high on the need for information, while the third group, the Socializers represented 26 per cent and scored high on the need for interaction. The final group, the Minimally Involveds, represented 49 per cent and scored low on both information seeking behaviour and social interaction.

We then examined the motivational profile of each of these segments—and for the total sample.  Overall, we found that the three most significant motivators for participating in online survey research include:

  • Trust – when the survey is associated with a familiar sponsor and one that is revealed to participants in advance;
  • reciprocity – when respondents receive feedback from the sponsor about the impact of the information they provided and/or when there is a tangible incentive to participate; and
  • privacy – when respondents’ concerns about the confidentiality or security of their responses have been adequately addressed.

In addition to these overall motivators, we found that Social Media Mavens and Info Seekers are inspired by sharing opinions to enhance their own knowledge or decision-making, the feeling that they have something worthwhile to share, believing that they will receive something worthwhile in return from their online peers, and altruism, the willingness to share with no expectation of reciprocity.

Demographics also influenced the motivations of respondents. Younger survey respondents were more likely to be more highly motivated by specific constructs than older respondents, possibly because they are more technologically adept. Males are more likely than females to be motivated by believing that peers will reciprocate and share information, and the social interaction aspect of online participation. And, females, as might be expected, are more concerned about privacy than males.

Respondents also reported that being transparent about privacy controls, offering reward points for sharing opinions and enforcing an online code of conduct are the strategies that are most likely to result in increased online survey participation.

In addition, Info seekers report increasing their likelihood of participation if sponsors offer rewards to access specialized content, access to like-minded community members, and a star system of rewards to recognize quality contributions.

Another interesting finding is the fact that each of the top motivators are within the sponsors’ control to influence. They are not dependent on peer response or intrinsic motivators within individuals.

The research also found that there are differences between the various user groups. Social Media Mavens are a highly motivated group and respond to a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic triggers for participation. They feel competent and confident and believe they have important information to share. They are committed to enhancing the broader community rather than simply using social media to stay in touch with friends, which is the main motivator for Socializers. Info Seekers are also motivated by a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Despite their small proportion of the sample, they may be a promising segment to target because they are technologically engaged, are motivated by a variety of constructs to share opinions online and respond positively to a number of the strategies tested to increase participation.


About AskingCanadians™
AskingCanadians™, a Delvinia company, was established in 2005 as an online data collection firm dedicated to helping market researchers gather high quality information from Canadian consumers. We own and manage the AskingCanadians™ online research community, and its French counterpart Qu’en pensez vousMC, which includes a panel of more than 160,000 demographically representative and profiled Canadians who have opted-in to participate in online surveys that significantly influence today’s leading brands. AskingCanadians™ and Qu’en pensez vousMC are built through incentive partnerships with HBC Rewards and Aeroplan. The result is an average response rate that eclipses the industry. For more information, please visit corporate.askingcanadians.com.

About Mary Foster, PhD

Mary Foster, PhD is a professor of marketing at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.  Her research areas of interest include social media, marketing education, privacy, and the nonprofit sector.  She has received grants from Fed Dev Ontario’s Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to support her research.  From 2006 to 2011, she was the Chair of Marketing and initiated the development of a new curriculum that incorporated the latest quantitative tools and social media innovations into course content.  She earned an MA from the University of Toronto and an MPhil and PhD from Columbia University.


Susan O’Neill

Public Relations Manager, Delvinia

416.364.1455 ext 272