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Learn strategies for targeting the right people, screening, and incentives. Review popular recruitment channels, online tools, and more.
We’ve broken down the process of recruiting people for research studies into four areas:
Let’s look at these four different areas and explore how your research team can tackle each.
As we highlight in the first chapter of our User Research Field Guide, targeting should typically be defined by using a mixture of the following criteria:
The first way to improve the quality and suitability of participants when recruiting for a study is to clearly define your intended participants.
If you’re doing research for a company or a product, the target audience is usually representative of your eventual — or existing — customers.
With this in mind, avoid the trap of thinking “Everybody is a potential customer” — your targeting will be too broad, and you’ll waste time rejecting participants who are a bad fit for all sorts of unforeseen reasons.
First, zero in on the goals of your research. What do you want to find out? Then, work backwards to figure out which core audience is likely to give you those insights. Then, think beyond demographics and geographics.
“Middle-aged men in the United States” won’t cut it. Instead, think of criteria which allow you to screen human subjects for behaviors, attitudes, and characteristics.
Some examples of more clearly-defined (yet still broad enough) target groups are:
And it’s equally important to define who you’re not looking for.
For example, if you want to know which day of the week people in San Francisco drink the most wine, your recruitment efforts would be wasted on participants who are under the age of 21. It’s important to define these targets and non-targets at the outset, because it helps you create a solid screening process.
Once you’ve determined the ideal target audience for your study, it’s time to create a screener survey to qualify the respondents and build a list of reliable, genuine research participants.
As we highlight in our support article about building a screener survey, the first piece of advice is not to give too much away.
You want to weed out the people who are trying to game the system — including “professional” research participants who only want the incentive prize.
There are three ways to achieve this:
For example, a leading question for a life insurance company might be a yes/no choice for:
“Do you currently have life insurance?”
A better way to ask this question without leading the respondent would be:
“Which types of insurance do you currently have?
In this case, one qualifier in the online survey flow may be to select life insurance in this list (or not, if the company wants to learn about why people don’t have it). Either way, you’ll want to minimize the chance of the respondent guessing what you want to hear. Avoid clues as much as possible.
Our second piece of advice for screening is to identify high-quality participants by asking “articulation questions.” These are more open ended and descriptive, designed to test a user’s capacity to communicate. If a person can express their ideas with depth of thought, they’re likely to be a helpful participant in your user interviews. But beware of the “one-word answerer.”
An example of an articulation question would be:
“Describe how you feel about your work commute.”
If someone says their commute is “Fine,” they might not give helpful answers during an interview. But if they talk about how it’s uncomfortably long, or they hate how congested traffic is, or they don’t mind it because they use the time to listen to podcasts … Well, you get the idea.
Lastly, it’s important to keep screener surveys short and sweet. We’ve seen some screener surveys get so long that participants mistake them for the paid survey! If you’re looking for a rough guideline on length, try to keep your screener to less than ten questions.
With User Interviews, you can also use skip logic to change what the respondent sees next based on what they’ve answered. This means you can push them to the end of the online survey immediately if any single answer qualifies or disqualifies them.
You can learn more about creating a great screener survey in the second chapter of our User Research Field Guide.
Monetary incentives will improve the response rate for your screener survey and reduce the number of no-shows after you whittle down the research participants. Incentives will also help keep participants engaged and responsive during the research study.
But how much should you offer when recruiting participants for your study?
There are three main guiding principles for planning incentives, which we’ve also outlined in the third chapter of our User Research Field Guide:
For example, if you’re looking to recruit high-income professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) for an in-home or in-person research study, it’s good form to offer a minimum of $125 for a 30-minute interview. The equivalent recruitment rate for a general consumer participant would be around $60.
For a detailed breakdown of how much to pay your research study participants for in-person and phone interviews, see our incentive calculator.
We recommend researchers use popular digital payment platforms like PayPal for cash-based incentives. If you use User Interviews for recruiting participants for a study, we can instantly process incentive payments through Amazon Gift Cards. We will also automatically issue 1099s for your tax records. Or you can handle incentives independently — it’s up to you.
It’s important to account for the overall time investment for the participant when calculating your incentive offer and to make payment promptly. And bear in mind that financial incentives aren’t enough to guarantee high-quality and happy participants — people need to have clear instructions, and they need to know you’re truly grateful for their time.
If you keep hitting the same initial audiences time and time again for different research studies, you will experience the law of diminishing returns. Repeat participants will eventually get fatigued, and your research will be based on interviewing the same people with the same views.
There are two possible ways to avoid this problem:
In the final section of this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the different channels.
Naturally, this doesn’t account for researchers who are doing a study that involves their own users. In a small company, it might be unavoidable to hit the same audience repeatedly when you’re testing product development among your most engaged current customers.
So, how can you keep things fresh?
You can build your own research panel using any of these channels, and import your database into User Interviews. There, you can manage the whole research process from within one platform: profile building, scheduling, tracking responses, incentive payments, and more.
Since the quality of your participants directly impacts the outcome of your research project, it’s important to get off to a good start by specifying targets, building a bulletproof screening process, and offering incentives that match the expectations of your target audience.
If you’d like recruiting participants to be the easiest part of your job, try User Interviews. Our ever-growing participant pool and smart targeting options mean you’ll never fatigue your audience, and you’ll be able to find people with the behavioral background you need.
Find your first three participants for free on User Interviews.