A Consumer Research Panel will typically focus on a particular product, service or area of discussion. Most are community focused and have a blog like character to them. These companies encourage you to promote and discuss their products with people you know and also on their sites Most of them require some sort of forum participation or response to the surveys they send out. They usually send out free products and/or coupons in exchange for your participation. It is important to stay active in these panels in order to continue to receive invites. The more you contribute, the more you get back. Click here for a list of Consumer Panel Links.
Members of Consumer Research Panels will often be offered a product to try out at home, but not always. Another way to get selected for product tests is by taking surveys (see next section). Companies will often send out pre-qualifiers to see if a particular person meets all of the qualifications they are looking for in a tester. Sometimes the survey will actually tell you they are doing this, but usually not. One way to tell if a survey is leading to a product test is by the questions that they ask. If they ask you if you’re allergic to anything, or have certain medical conditions then that is a big clue. Compensation for product tests can be in the form of a check, points or maybe just the item they send you (or a combination of all of them).
Manufacturers often hire Market Research (Survey) Companies to study their target markets while developing new products/services or modifying existing ones. These companies send out surveys to gather information for the Manufacturer. Surveys can be fun and interesting. They are an easy way to contribute your voice to the manufacturer of a product or provider of a service. You can also make a little extra income by doing them as most legitimate companies will compensate you somehow. Some companies pay via a check or gift card and others allow you to accumulate points that can be redeemed for prizes. Nearly all of them have a minimum threshold before you can cash out. Some companies will offer you a product to try at home and others will ask you to watch or read an advertisement. Most surveys pay anywhere from $2 to $20, depending on length and activities required.
Sometimes a Market Research Company will invite you to be part of a Focus Group. Focus Groups are groups of people selected to discuss a product or service in more detail than a typical survey does. Sometimes you will participate in a round table type group and other times it will be a web chat setting. These groups often last an hour or more. Focus Groups usually pay pretty well, but also require a larger time commitment. Payment is usually by check or gift card in amounts of $50 to $200.
If you are going to participate in this type of Market Research then it would be a good idea to set up a separate email account for it. Some Survey and Research companies will bombard you with daily emails and others will only send out a few a month. Be careful how many you sign up for at once because you may take on more than you can handle.
There are a lot of fake Survey and Research sites out there and there are some legitimate bad ones as well. Be very careful how much personal information you provide. Never give out bank, credit card or sensitive information. Some companies will try and get as much as they can out of you for next to nothing. I stay away from those. A good survey shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes to complete unless you are told it will be longer before starting it. The better sites will warn you if it is going to be real long and typically will pay you a little more as well. Also, you should never, ever have to pay to sign up for a survey company and you should never have to give out your social security number.
If you are unsure about the validity of a survey site then try checking Survey Police. They maintain a pretty good list of information on most companies.