How to get a representative sample for your online surveys

A representative sample of a population is important when surveying an online audience for inclusivity and to avoid bias. Read on to learn what a representative sample is, why having a representative sample is important, and five things you can do to ensure you're creating a representative sample.
22 April 2021
representative audience, online surveys
Vivien Le Masson
Le Masson

Senior Director, Singapore

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What is a Representative Sample

A representative sample is an important component of market research. It refers to a subset of the larger population that accurately represents its characteristics. The goal of obtaining a representative sample is to ensure that the findings obtained from the sample can be generalized to the entire population. To achieve this, it is essential to use a sampling method that ensures every member of the population you are surveying has an equal chance of being selected.

Why is it Important to Have a Representative Sample when Conducting a Survey?

By selecting a sample that accurately reflects the characteristics of the population, you can reduce the risk of bias and obtain accurate insights into consumer behavior. Having a representative sample allows us to make accurate predictions and informed decisions based on the data collected. This, in turn, helps businesses make better decisions and create products and services that meet the needs of their target audience. Ultimately, having a representative sample is essential for conducting reliable and informative surveys that can help businesses achieve their goals.

Because the digital universe is changing continuously and faster than ever, reaching a truly representative sample of an audience can be a balancing act. However, putting the work into ensuring your online audience is representative is worth the reward.

So, how can you ensure you are reaching a representative sample of an online audience? Here are five things to keep in mind:

  1. Design online surveys to be mobile first
  2. Recruit from a variety of sources
  3. Leverage inclusive profiling
  4. Sample for success
  5. Safeguard against fraud

1. Design online survey to be mobile first

It’s no longer good enough to create surveys that are device agnostic. Surveys must be designed for mobile responders and the rest of the devices will fall in line. Here are two reasons why.

First, user experience matters. Mobile first survey designs go beyond functionality and embrace software advancements that enhance user experience. If a respondent can’t see the question in full or find the ‘next’ button, then you risk incomplete data or early dropout. Shorter and engaging surveys will keep people’s attention through completion and improve the chances of creating a representative sample.

Secondly, device representation is important to online research today. If surveys aren’t accessible to mobile responders, then your audience won't receive a representative sample of your audience.

Globally, as of January 2021, 59.5% of the population were active internet users. Of that total, 92.6% accessed the internet via mobile devices. By not capturing mobile users, you risk gaps in representation in geographies, demographics and consumer behaviour.

2. Recruit from a variety of sources

When recruiting for a panel or survey, diversity of sources is key to claiming a representative sample. Some respondents are recruited through apps and others via the web. Both audiences will have different digital behaviours and attitudes.

Using diverse sources ensures you’re including people with various behaviours and reduces the risk of inherent bias in your results. This creates a more sustainable long-term approach to research and ensures you will create a representative sample.

This is why it’s important to choose a sample partner who recruits respondents through a mix of curated partners, media, social channels and loyalty schemes. That applies to both niche audiences and holistic views of a nationally representative sample.

3. Leverage inclusive profiling

The world is made up of a rich mix of people from different cultures, backgrounds, education levels, ages, genders and sexualities. People are complex with unique voices to be heard. The attributes you profile on are all important when defining a representative sample of your audience and surveying respondents.

Using a deeply and pre-profiled panel of respondents in your research can give you confidence in knowing your audience is an inclusive and diverse representative sample.

4. Sample for success

Quotas and sample sizes are central to a representative sample of an online audience, and setting quotas on groups isn’t always the right way forward. For example, if you set quotas on hard-to-reach audiences, you may risk introducing bias by upweighting the opinions of one group over another. 

Indeed, using sample invitation quotas can be better than setting quotas in the survey itself. Sampling technology has become increasingly more sophisticated in recent years. We are much more able to efficiently handle the quotas through the sample invitation process.

5. Safeguard against fraud

With online surveys comes the potential of fraudulent respondents. Experienced panel managers can mitigate against this through gatekeeping at registration, leveraging pre-survey advanced quality approaches and in-survey checks.

Kantar uses best-in-class audience compliance tools for recruitment, pre-survey checks and in-survey checks. These include identity validation, machine AI learning, Honesty Detector, digital fingerprinting technology and in-survey quality controls.

Conduct Quality Survey Research with Kantar

Kantar has an unparalleled commitment to delivering quality data for your research projects. We continually invest in a multi-faceted approach through permission-based data, research-on-research, proprietary technology and a team of experts. Speak to one of our online research experts today.

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