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About the APP

The American Population Panel, established in June 2017, is a group of volunteer members who agree to participate in social science and health related studies managed by CHRR at The Ohio State University. Membership is over 45,000 as of May 2022.

The initial question prompting the formation of the panel was how best to contact willing research participants in the digital age. To do so, CHRR conducted a recruitment study from June 1 to November 12, 2017, along with a short survey about social media platforms that individuals tend to use.

Study Overview

The purpose of the study was to learn how best to reach potential survey participants. People throw much of their mail into the trash or recycling bin. Landlines are less common today in households than they were in the past and rarely answered. Cellphone users are also increasingly unlikely to answer calls from unknown sources. Emails can be diverted to spam folders. Individuals are less likely to open their doors to strangers. All of these trends make recruiting survey respondents difficult and expensive.

Social media is far-reaching, however, and may provide an efficient connection to many survey participants who are otherwise unreachable. We assessed the efficacy of using social media to recruit participants and contrasted the results of responses from social media marketing to responses from telephone solicitations, email messages, and postcards. Our ultimate goal was to create a repository (panel) of potential participants that we could contact for future surveys.

As part of our assessment, we sent 20,000 emails, called 10,000 landlines and 10,000 cellphones, mailed 1,000 postcards, and ran a social media campaign. If individuals chose to join the panel, they were then asked about the social media platforms they use by checking all that apply. The goal of the survey itself was to inform future social media campaigns by targeting the platforms people frequented, but with the understanding that different platforms appeal to different demographics.

Study Insights

What we learned, and had already suspected, was that the traditional methods for contacting people for research studies resulted in far fewer responses than a social media campaign. Traditional methods remained time-consuming endeavors that were more expensive per conversion than digital strategies.

For example, out of the 1,000 mailers that were sent, we received only 1 response! Landline calls netted 102 panelists, cellphone calls produced 285 panelists, and emails generated 181 panelists (and 2 by other means). We asked those 571 respondents who signed up via traditional methods during the study period to select all social media platforms that they used and the results demonstrated that Facebook was the top selection.

Examining these results further, there was a small subset of panelists from each recruitment channel that did not use any social media networks. We found that 6 percent of panelists who were contacted by cellphones did not have social media accounts, 4 percent of panelists who were contacted by landline calls did not have social media accounts, and 2 percent of panelists who were contacted by email did not have social media accounts.

Although these percentages were small, they do show that continuing to recruit via traditional methods can reach people who are not reachable via an array of social media outlets.

how many recruited panelists use each social media platform in initial study
Figure 1: Social Media Platform Usage among Recruits (click image to enlarge) Fig. 1 chart data
how many recruited panelists use facebook per communication channel in initial study
Figure 2: Panelists with Facebook Accounts per Recruitment Channel (click image to enlarge) Fig. 2 chart data
number of recruited panelists who don't use social media per communication channel in initial study
Figure 3: Distribution of Panelists per Recruitment Channel (click image to enlarge) Fig. 3 chart data

Growing Panel Membership

Based on this information, as we continued to build the American Population Panel we put more of our recruitment efforts and resources into taking advantage of different social media strategies. These techniques have evolved over the years since the panel began, but have assisted in growing the panel to its current membership in a relatively short period of time.

We still engage in traditional recruitment methods depending on the needs of each survey project and the population subgroups researchers wish to contact, with examples including in-person recruitment at libraries, community recreation centers and shelters, and even state fairs. However, harnessing the reach of social media has proven to be economically viable for the recruitment process.

The study was funded by CHRR at The Ohio State University and led by Dr. Elizabeth Cooksey, APP principal investigator.