You can’t do good research without good participants. Participants are the core of what makes research work. Without them, we’re all just making a lot of internal assumptions, and not seeing the user’s perspective.
One of the trickiest parts of the entire research process is getting potential participants to respond to your research invitations. I’ve helped researchers successfully find quality participants for hundreds of studies, and today I want to help you increase your response rate too.
What do you hope to learn from your research? Who can help you best uncover those insights? Develop an idea or persona of the audience members who fit the needs of your research. If you’re feeling stuck, here are some tips on how to find the right participants.
If you’ve been using an email system to send your research invitation emails, and can parse your engagement rates there, you’ll have a better sense of how many people you need to contact before you get a response. If you’re a Research Hub customer, you can see how many participants you invited to any given study, how many applied, and how many ended up participating in a study. This can also help give you a great baseline for how many participants to invite in the future.
This week, our team here at User Interviews started an organization wide discovery research project—stay tuned for more on that—to better understand research habits within organizations. We decided to segment our audiences by job title. The audience with the most obviously relevant job title—those that contained “research”—had one of the highest response rates at 20%. Those with a slightly less relevant job title, such as those containing UX, product, or designer, had lower response rates, between 10-13%.
Depending on how niche your audience is, and how many people you’re able to invite, your response rates will vary considerably. Ideally you want to keep them high, so you aren’t sending future potential participants invitations they aren’t interested in.
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Your participants are likely not intimately familiar with the subjects of your research, so, it’s up to you to tell them what’s going on. You don’t need to have all the details up front—in fact, you don’t want to—but providing a clear, concise message can help get people’s attention. What is it that you’re doing? Why do you want to speak with this person? What’s in it for the participant? Think incentives, but also why it might be fun, educational, or help you create a better product for them.
Half your inbox is probably filled with automated messages, spam, or cold emails. I’m constantly monitoring the emails I get to avoid sending the kinds of emails I, myself, don’t like. My time is precious, your time is precious, and your participant’s time is precious. Hit the important questions—What’s the point of the study? When is it? Where is it? What makes someone a good fit?—then move on.
Fitting your core message into your subject line can be tricky, but no open, no participant.
Personalization helps. If you can add their first name, that’s great. Or focus on things like job title, that are personal to them, but applicable to the entire audience you’re inviting. In our recent research invitation, we pulled the participant’s job title into the subject line (i.e. “We want to talk to researchers”) to help drive more opens.
How about throwing in an emoji or two? ✅💯📈🤯 Emojis are humanizing, fun, and they work.
If you have the ability to try a few options, consider testing different subject lines for the same study to learn what kinds of messages work best with your audience and various types of studies.
You’ve nailed down who you want to speak with, and your direct email outreach isn’t turning up as much interest as you need. If potential participants are looking at your company newsletters, include a way to sign up for your study there. If you have an account management or success team, ask them to help send out notes to your clients to gauge interest. Can you add a signup to popular areas of your website? Research Hub creates a link for each study that you can share with anyone, anywhere, to invite them to your study. Invite participants where they are.
Cash always works. However, you might find that your users find some benefit from unique offerings, like free trials or exclusive access to new features. Is there something you could offer them that they’d find valuable? We had a great response to our offer for a free month of Research Hub in our current study at User Interviews. Find the right incentive, and don’t be shy about sharing it.
Sometimes you need to be flexible. If location isn’t required, try changing your session format to remote to cast a wider net. If some demographic or other criteria are very specific and limiting your reach, see if you can make some allowances. You shouldn’t veer too far off course, but occasionally a little flexibility can bring in surprising participants you didn’t know you’d need.
Each situation is different. We’re big fans of trying new things. Perhaps you’ll find a new way of doing things that will open your research up to a wider world of awesome participants. We’d love to hear your tips for getting a great response rate. Share them with us on Twitter.
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