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Sample 101: River versus Panel

Brookmark Research and our sample partner, OpinionRoute, have created an educational blog specifically focused on helping our clients understand several aspects of the sample/panel industry. The purpose of this post is to shed some light on the differences between river and panel sample.

What is River Sample?

A sample where “survey respondents are invited via the placement of ads, offers or invitations online.  River sample may also be referred to as web intercept, real time sampling, and dynamically sourced sampling” (Source).  Common providers of river traffic are affiliate networks and social-media-engaged marketing agencies.  Incentives commonly take the form of virtual currency tied to online gaming and “content” provided on micro blog sites seeking specific audiences.

A potential survey respondent basically clicks on an ad, promotion or “offer”, is brought into a router, answers several pre-screening questions and then is routed to a survey based on their responses to the pre-screening questions.  As researchers we don’t have any information about these people prior to hitting the survey.  This is basically “raw traffic”.  In other words, we don’t know who they are demographically or behaviorally.

River Sample is best used for the following types of studies:

  • Mobile-friendly studies due to in the moment engagement
  • Younger demographic targets due to recruitment techniques
  • High volume studies with ample field time
  • Studies with minimal quotas
  • Lead generation type activities like community building, etc.

You should never use River Sample for the following types of studies:

  • Small market geographically targeted studies
  • Studies where screening statistics are needed for weighting purposes
  • Studies with complex quota requirements
  • Research where you may need to recontact the respondent
  • Niche targets with quick turnaround schedules

What is Panel Sample?

A sample where respondents have gone through an industry-regulated double opt-in registration process to specifically join a research panel.  Double opt-in means the respondent signed up for the panel, received an email to confirm the registration, and then click on a link back to the panel site to complete registration.  With panel sample, the demographic profile of the respondents is consistently collected and maintained/updated in a master database.  We know who these people are and we can target them for specific types of research studies.   Panels also have a defined periodic panel cleansing/refresh process that infuses “fresh” respondents while also removing respondents who demonstrate a pattern of poor quality response behaviors.

The table below details the key differences between River and River sample.


River Panel
Single opt-in Double opt- in
Respondent identity unverifiable Respondent identity validated
Targeted respondent profile unavailable Can be demographically and behaviorally targeted
Measured by conversion rates Measured by incidence rates
Only survey-level QC checks are possible here Defined quality management process for excluding patterned “cheaters”
Respondents cannot be recontacted Respondents can be recontacted
Feasibility is a guessing game for selective targets Quantifiable feasibility algorithms
Inconsistent engagement process due to using digital marketing intercept techniques Consistent respondent friendly engagement process
Research on research quantified higher rate of “bad/streamlining” behavior Predictable and accepted levels of “bad/streamlining” behavior

About Brookmark Research:

Brookmark is a research operations company focused on managing the critical components of the research process including project management, survey design, programming, hosting, sample design & management, data management and reporting solutions.   Brookmark provides a full outsource solution for all your research needs.

About OpinionRoute:

OpinionRoute is a technology centric survey sampling company specializing in providing back-office support to small to mid-size market research and management consulting companies. OpinionRoute helps its clients answer (and action) practical, methodological and business questions while adding expert resources in the area of sample design.