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Four Areas in Which to Improve Participant Engagement

Lisa Wilding-Brown

March 19, 2019

In the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing participant engagement and its impact on the market research industry with industry cohorts. Recently, I wrote about the Trust Survey for 2018 conducted by GRBN that found only 27% of participants trust market research companies and that 70% have had a bad research experience recently.

Rated at almost the same level of trust as social media companies and mobile phone operators, market research is struggling against increased negativity from participants towards brands mentioned in surveys and higher drop off rates.

With all of this in mind, I recently joined Andrew Cannon from GRBN and Baillie Buchanan from Research for Good in a webinar produced by Insights Association to discuss what we can do about these issues. In our presentation, we touched on some of the results from the Trust Survey, as well as four major areas in which companies in the market research industry can take action to improve overall engagement. Here are some highlights from that conversation.


It’s easy to think of participants as just another part of the survey process, rather than flesh and blood people with motivations and desires. To improve engagement, we need to not only recognize what motivates them to take surveys but also what we can do to better deliver on those motivations and help them realize their expectations. Here are a few of the key elements:

  • Employing a Participant-Centric Design Process – When designing surveys, ask yourself how your choices will impact those who will take the survey. What could you do better to make it a more pleasant experience?
  • Create Surveys People Will Enjoy – Moreover, try to get to the root of what actually matters to your participants. What interests them and what will they enjoy answering questions about?
  • Cap the Length of Your Studies – Avoid long surveys unless you have a specific reason that justifies that length. What is the purpose of this research? Do all of your questions support that purpose?
  • Keep it Real – Too many surveys sound like they are written by a machine (or worse, a committee of decision-makers). Keep it real with conversational language that is to the point.
  • Mobile First – A very small percentage of Internet users use only a desktop or laptop computer. Design for mobile first and you’ll ensure a pleasing experience for all users, regardless of device.


When you better understand the people in your study, you can motivate them and make the process more fun. Better yet, you can communicate those fun things in advance and encourage people to be more involved.

  • Be Transparent – People want to trust you, so don’t give them reasons not to. Be transparent about what you need from them from the start.
  • Share the Sponsor – People are more likely to respond if they know who is sponsoring the research. Make it standard practice to include this information at the end of every survey and be sure to tell them you will be doing so.
  • Where and Why? – People also want to know what their responses will be used for and how you plan to manage and protect their personal information. Share this information up front to make it clear what happens next.


People like to not only feel like they are part of something important but to specifically see what their impact is. By sharing interesting results and findings with participants, you better engage them and share valuable feedback from their input.

  • Share Comparisons – Participants are just as interested in the results of a survey as you are. Show them how they compare to others who took the survey whenever possible.
  • Share Additional Data – Another great way to provide value to your participants is to show them responses others provided to the questions on a survey. Identify high-interest questions such as “what you are most worried about for….?” Better yet, show them results from comparable age ranges or locations.


Finally, make sure your participants feel appreciated. They’ve taken time out of their day and answered questions that will help you with your research. Let them know that their time and input is valued and that you will be putting it to good use.

  • Include a Thank You Message – Share a video message from a member of the brand’s team to thank the participant for their input. Even a short 30-second video recorded on an iPhone can have a big impact in making them feel appreciated. In recent research, we saw a 20% increase in how people felt about a brand with such a video.
  • Act on Feedback – At the end of your surveys, ask participants about the experience. Was the survey overall very good, somewhat good or not good? How did the survey experience make them feel about the brand? Be sure to provide context for these questions so people understand why you are asking them and how you will use the information to improve future surveys.

Building a World Class Participant Engagement Experience

I’ve been passionate about the importance of the participant engagement experience for years and am proud to now be a part of the industry’s efforts to make it better, led by GRBN’s ENGAGE MR program. InnovateMR has been named one of the first Corporate Champions in the program and we’ve been actively engaged in research on research and industry presentations to spread the word.

About the Author

Lisa Wilding-Brown

Lisa Wilding-Brown has been in the industry since the inception of Online Research. Lisa’s specialties include sampling and survey design, panel development and management, online and mobile recruitment as well as full-service mixed-mode field management.  As Chief Research Officer, Lisa is responsible for panel quality, best practices, and sampling methodologies as well as spear-heading the firm’s DIY platform, Pegasus. Prior to joining Innovate, Lisa was a member of the executive team at uSamp where she developed the company’s global panel and led the firm’s mobile business division.  Lisa got her start in Market Research at Harris Interactive, where she played an instrumental role in developing the company’s full-service online project management group.  Wilding-Brown later joined the panel team, focusing her efforts on research-on-research, survey methodology, specialty panel development and online user engagement for the Harris Poll Online.

Wilding-Brown serves on the board for both the MMRA and UTA’s Master of Science in Marketing Research.  Lisa has presented at such conferences as AAPOR, the MRMW North America and Europe, The Insights Association, and she has published research related to engagement, online survey design, online quality and mobile best practices.  Lisa chairs a committee focused on enhancing user experience for the Insights Association’s Online Sampling Forum and she is an active contributor to the GRBN and WIRexec.

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