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What is a panel survey?

The definition of a panel survey is a longitudinal study that measures the behavior of people over time, including their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Survey respondents may include customers, consumers, employees, patients, voters and other people who provide valuable insights.

The same target audience is surveyed at different points in time to better understand how respondents’ attitudes and behaviors change. Online surveys, interviews, questionnaires and even barcode scanning can be used for data collection. 

The panel survey can use a quantitative approach that captures numerical data or a qualitative methodology that captures subjective information like thoughts and opinions. The approach depends on the nature of the study and the desired results.

“Panel surveys” are frequently confused with “survey panels”. A “panel survey” is the type of survey conducted.  A “survey panel” is a group of people that have been assembled, filled out a profile, and are willing to share their opinions. Many market research surveys use survey panels to target the exact respondents they need to reach.

Panel surveys are often used to understand how consumer attitudes change over time, often for products and services or brand positioning.

Companies may also use panel studies to understand managerial performance, reaction to new policies, or understand how to improve employee engagement. News media outlets use panel surveys for data collection regarding public policies or elections.

Panel surveys track changes in behavior over time by conducting similar surveys to the target audience multiple times over several weeks, months, or years. Panel surveys provide more information than a survey conducted at one point in time.

One of the benefits of a panel survey is understanding how variables impact the views and behavior of survey panelists. For example, a survey at one point in time may indicate that a single variable has a big impact on consumer behavior. However, a longitudinal panel survey will show the true extent of that single variable’s impact over time.

People agree to participate in surveys by signing up with a company that conducts surveys. These respondents agree to provide their demographic data that is used in each study. A survey panelist will be part of a larger group that represents a wide range of social backgrounds, interests, age, employment, income levels, and other demographics that are of interest to researchers.

Many companies, including those from consumer products, news media organizations, market research firms, and government agencies, and other industry sectors all want to tap into what is on the minds of their target survey respondents. 

Respondent behaviors and insights will help influence what product or service will enter the market next. They will also impact what kinds of policies and procedures companies will implement to improve their operations or improve employee performance.

In a panel survey, the audience is surveyed multiple times. Each set of surveys is called a wave. A panel study will have several waves where each panel member is asked the same or similar questions to understand their behavior and how it changes. For instance, a 3 wave study is a survey conducted at 3 different points in time.

What can you expect if you conduct a panel survey? 

If your panel survey uses one-on-one surveys or focus groups, you’ll work with a market research firm that has access to the people who fit your target audience profile and desired demographics. Depending on how many people need to be interviewed, it can take a long time to recruit the audience, conduct the survey, and report the results.

If you choose an online panel survey, you will work with a provider to administer the survey. For instance, if your survey is about your company, you’ll work with the firm to provide your employees’ information so they can conduct the survey.

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A growing number of organizations are choosing to use an online survey to gather information from their target audience. If you choose to use online surveys, you will conduct multiple waves of surveys at different times. This will help you gather data more quickly than one-on-one questions or focus groups.

Here’s the 7 steps you need to know about online surveys:

  1. Select your demographic data. What are the ideal characteristics for your survey panelist? Are you surveying consumers, clients, employees, patients, or another group? Choose the demographics that work best for your panel survey. Make sure you choose a company with access to international panel members if you need to reach a global audience.
  2. Respondents are assigned to surveys. The survey provider will assign surveys to a pool of survey participants that match your ideal audience demographics.
  3. Urgent? Mark your online survey panel as High Priority. Some market research firms and survey companies will allow you to mark your survey as urgent to quickly get it to survey panelists.
  4. Panelists are notified. When surveys are ready to go, panelists get an email and can click the link to get started. As soon as enough target respondents are reached, the online survey company will prevent additional panelists from joining. You’ll get the results you need from an audience with a balanced demographic profile.
  5. Panelists take the survey. Respondents, based on your target audience, take your survey. 
  6. The survey is closed. When enough panelists have completed your survey, the survey is closed to prevent additional data that may impact your desired results.
  7. You get a detailed report. Once the survey is completed, you’ll get the detailed information you need to understand what’s on your target audience’s mind. Panel surveys allow you to compare these valuable reports over time, so you can understand how your audiences’ behavior is changing.
Aided brand awareness: sparkling water category

The process is easy and gives you the responses you need in a short period of time. If you need help interpreting the report data, your online survey provider will have resources to help you understand what is really happening with your respondents.

Panel surveys are designed to uncover the behavior of specific groups of people. The panel survey is designed to focus on the specific variables, often demographics and other patterns, that will influence the respondent’s behavior.

For instance, let us look at a survey example of how many consumers use shaving cream vs. shaving gel. A company may want this data because they are considering improving an existing product, repositioning a brand, or selling a new product. 

In this example the company wanted to test which variables, like the consumer’s age and how often they would use the product. 

Respondents were asked, "How often do you personally use the following personal hygiene products: shaving foam and shaving gel?"

The panel survey was divided into the following categories based on demographics:

Gender and location:

  • Live in the US
  • Males

Age ranges:

  • Age 18 to 29
  • Age 30 to 59
  • Age 59 and older

Type of product preferred:

  • Shaving cream
  • Shaving gel

Frequency of use: