By day, Bethany McDonald keeps her opinions to herself. As a senior lab analyst for a metals-finishing company, she doesn’t say anything she can’t back up with facts.
But by night, she lets her opinions fly. Logging onto consumer market-research survey sites as a paid panelist, she blasts bad TV ads or sales promotions.
“Some of these commercials are just absolutely ridiculous,” says Ms. McDonald, 31, of Feeding Hills, Mass. For venting her opinions once or twice a day on those and other topics, Ms. McDonald earns pocket changeâ€”about $250 a year.
If your secret fantasy is to express your opinions on new ads, products or websites, to vent your political views from the privacy of home, or to vote as a mock juror in a complex court case, your day has come.
While marketers have long sought out consumer opinions, opportunities to dive in and earn some extra cash are expanding online.
Half of a projected $3.3 billion in spending on market-research surveys this year will be conducted online rather than by traditional email, snail mail or telephone surveys, up from 33% in 2005, says Laurence Gold, editor and publisher of Inside Research, a Barrington, Ill., industry newsletter that has been tracking the market for two decades.
Opinionators working from home usually make from less than $1 to $20 in cash, gift cards or other incentives for spending about two to 30 minutes completing surveys or reviews for such websites as SurveyHead.com, SurveySpot.com or Toluna.com.
More intensive online focus groups or chats through 2020Research.com and others can take 20 minutes to two hours over two or more days, and pay $25 to $75 or more. Online mock jurors can make $5 to $10 for reading and giving an opinion on a case. Website testers make about $10 for spending 15 to 25 minutes trying out sites and recording their opinions.
Scams outnumber legitimate work-at-home opportunities on the Web by 60 to 1, says RatRaceRebellion.com. It screens about 5,000 workat-home pitches each week. Some tips:
- Do an Internet search with the company name and ‘scam’ or ‘rip-off.’
- Avoid companies that charge a fee upfront or promise big money for unskilled work.
- Stay away from sites that ask for checking account, credit card or Social Security numbers.
- Avoid sites that offer no phone number or email link to contact the company.
- Vet work-at-home pitches at bbb.org, the Better Business Bureau website.
- Check out postings on message boards on consumer sites such as RipoffReport.com, WAHM.com or ComplaintsBoard.com.
Simmons Bedding Co., Atlanta, for example, has made changes to some of its promotions based on monthly online consumer surveys through Toluna.com, says Ken Morgan, Simmons’s director of market analytics.
Hallmark Cards Inc., Kansas City, Mo., changed some of its products for children based on input from an online panel of mothers it maintains, says Dave Mihanovic, director of consumer insight. Charles Schwab Corp., San Francisco, a financial-services company, says online consumer research groups helped it understand and attract more customers among Gen-Xers.
Online consumer research, of course, may not be totally representative, marketers say. Some also say they worry people try to game the system by answering dozens of surveys, or pretend to be someone they aren’t.
To address these concerns, companies that assemble the panels don’t allow serial surveys from the same person. To guard against bias, participants are paid by the research company rather than the client, and the surveys usually don’t identify the client. Also, research companies screen respondents to match the desired demographic profile, and weight results to make them representative of the target population.
Prospective opinionators need to watch out for scams. Scam artists may pitch at-home opportunities as a pretext for collecting personal information like Social Security numbers for identity theft.
Legitimate research firms limit information requests to general demographic characteristics such as household income or occupation, says Christine Durst, author of a guide on working from home.
Ms. McDonald, who completes surveys through SurveySpot.com, a unit of Shelton, Conn., research company Survey Sampling International, says the anonymity of the Web frees her to be as opinionated as she wants without fear of being judged.
One TV ad she was asked to critique showed a shopper in a supermarket checkout line quietly moving a divider on the conveyor belt to take a box of detergent from a shopper in front of her when she wasn’t looking.
“I blasted that one,” says Ms. McDonald, who agreed as a condition of taking the survey to not identify the brands she reviews. “It’s not something I have ever seen anybody do, or have ever even thought of doing,” she says. To her disappointment, the ad later appeared on the air anyway.
Nate Larson, 39, of Mercer Island, Wash., a civil engineer, says he enjoyed critiquing a planned Toyota Motor Corp. truck ad for a consumer-survey website a few years ago and seeing it air later.
The advertisement showed a Tacoma pickup racing through the wilderness with an intravenous bag attached to the driver’s arm, slowly filling with a liquid. At the ad’s conclusion, the bag was dropped off at an “adrenaline donor” program.
“The ad made it look exciting, and I thought it was a neat concept,” Mr. Larson says.
Other panelists believe it is their civic duty to air their views.
Peggy Baxter, 52, of Woodbury, Tenn., a customer-returns clerk for a manufacturing company, spends three to six hours a week doing surveys, especially on politics. “I’m a very opinionated person. I don’t pull punches,” she says.
On a recent survey on health-care reform, she blasted Republicans and Democrats alike for refusing to compromise. “They’re all saying, ‘It’s either my way or no way,'” she said, adding she hopes her opinions will spur politicians to mend their ways.
Lawyers sometimes use mock jurors or focus groups provided by such sites as eJury.com or OnlineVerdict.com to try to anticipate what a jury might decide if a case went to trial.
John P. Gismondi, a trial attorney in Pittsburgh, says an eJury mock jury helped him persuade defendants to settle a medical malpractice case and pay damages to the family of his client, a man in his 60s who died during heart surgery because of a surgical error.
Mr. Larson also serves as a mock juror, and says he sees himself as helping parties in lawsuits arrive at fair outcomes, a process that “seems sort of American, very democratic,” he says.
UserTesting.com, Mountain View, Calif., pays people to evaluate websites’ usability and clarity, feedback site developers use to help make sites easier for people to navigate.
Applicants talented at clearly explaining their critical observations, and who are “grumpy, a little bit irritable, willing to get frustrated with things,” are often top performers, says UserTesting.com co-founder Darrell Benatar.
â€”Read more from Sue Shellenbarger at The Juggle, the WSJ’s blog on work and family issues, blogs.wsj.com/juggle
Write to Sue Shellenbarger at [email protected]
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