The myth of cheaters and repeaters – An insider’s look into qualitative research participants

Focus Groups, Market Research, Qualitative Research, Recruiting


If you think professional respondents and problem participants are disrupting the quality of your insight, then you’ve fallen for the tired propaganda of those on a mission to steer clients away from qualitative research.

That’s right, it’s a myth.

Of course, professional participants do exist, and a lot of people only want to help for the sake of the incentive. But the thing is, they don’t actually prove a problem for qualitative researchers. It’s not because these people don’t try to cause a problem, but it’s because as an industry we have barricades in place to fend them off completely. And if they slip through, we have the knowhow to quarantine them before they can affect the insight. Therefore, although cheaters and repeaters do exist, they just don’t make it in the world of qual – and certainly not in our panels.

The first thing to say is that it’s not proprietary screening processes, cold calling or digital marketing alone that prevents these naughty participants from passing through. It’s technology that does the trick.

It’s all about the pre-emptive maneuvers. Having the right technology in place to support the recruitment process is standard for the respected qualitative panel companies. Sophisticated database management systems diligently track behavior, and therefore they can denote the problem participants while making them unaware of their disqualification.

Of course, there are the lower quality panel companies among us who simply don’t invest in the proper panel development. They’re the companies who are busy trying to convince clients of their ‘secret sauce’, which is said to defend against professional participants. But that sauce just doesn’t exist. It takes the right technology, management systems, and human engagement to immediately disqualify the people who are just in it for the money.

The software used by the well-respected recruitment companies tracks participation behavior on an ongoing basis, and quickly identifies any issues from the screener questions at the very start. This allows us to rule out or eliminate the problem participants before they can influence the insight. In fact, the technology can track over a hundred different data points for each respondent to ensure the participants are of the highest quality. With these intricate and all-encompassing searches, the system is able to find 120-130 new participants every day to join our already large panel of extremely engaged people, which means we can avoid recycling the same participants over and over again. This active search strategy offers plenty of first-timers who are prioritized for lists, which eliminates professionals. But of course, the search and screening processes run by the software is always followed by real human interaction – a final opportunity to verify the quality of the participant. At L&E, we have someone on staff whose full-time job is dedicated to building the quality of our database, so problem participants don’t even have a chance.

So, it’s not a ‘secret sauce’, but a rigorous process of selection and elimination, powered by state-of-the-art database software, supported by the latest technology, and backed with real human engagement.

Plus, it’s that same technology that supports our effort in finding the very best respondents for each individual qualitative project. While fighting off the naughty guys, the software provides a great way to engage with the good guys, which helps to build relationships and encourage participation. Stay tuned for more on how technology helps us engage with only the best participants in our next blog.

And in the meantime, you can download our latest white paper on best practices in qualitative research recruitment here (no form to fill out).