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June 12, 2020

  • Last Updated:
  • June 12, 2020

What’s the Best Way of Recruiting User Research Participants by Email?

While the content of each email you send to recruit potential participants matters, the actual series of emails you send is crucial, too.

Olivia Seitz

If you’re using email to recruit research participants, you might find yourself writing — and rewriting — the initial outreach email. While the content of each email does matter, the actual series of emails you send is as (if not more) important; you can always hone your approach over time by sending your email out in small batches to different people. Once they respond, you’ll need to follow through with the right information at the right time.

Since we send over 500,000 recruiting emails per month, we’ve had ample opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. We meticulously built a sequence of emails to secure qualified participants for studies. Our process can help you maintain a good relationship with your user base and increase the chances they respond to future recruitment efforts.  

Here, we share our best practices for email recruitment, including:  

  • Choosing the right number of people to contact
  • Setting up the initial outreach email
  • Gauging your response rate and sending follow-up batches of emails 
  • Approving participants 
  • Sending reminders to increase your chances of participants showing up
  • Issuing incentives
  • Sending thank-you emails that strengthen your relationship with each user.

We’ll also talk about how you can use our recruiting and user research management platform, User Interviews, to expedite the recruitment process for user experience studies. Whether you need to hand off recruitment efforts completely or your team needs tools to speed up research with your own users, we have a solution.

Note: Looking for a specific audience to participate in your user research? User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing participants in the U.S. and Canada. Find your first three participants for free. Or, streamline research with your own users in Research Hub (forever free for up to 100 participants).

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Determine How Many Emails to Send (And to Whom)

Before you send your first email, determine how many people you need to contact. If you’re doing research with your own users, it’s not usually a good idea to email blast your entire user base: They’ll be less open to helping you if they’re notified every time you’re running a study. 

One way to prevent this is to keep track of touchpoints and allow time between recruitment requests. Consider what your users are interested in and whether your research aligns with those interests. For example, if you have a banking solution for both personal and business uses and you’re improving the business use product, you can immediately focus only on the business users and segment further from there.

If you’re trying to find participants who haven’t used your product before, it takes a lot of work to assemble a group of qualified research participants, and email may or may not be the best way to reach them. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you already have a list of folks you want to contact.

When you do send your first email, send emails in batches (so you can troubleshoot as needed). Keep track of who you’re contacting. Start with 5-10 times the number of people you want for your study. For example, if you’re looking for 25 people to test a prototype, start by reaching out to 125-250 people.

Gauge Your Response Rate 

After the first batch of emails, gauge your response rate. Outreach done to an active portion of your existing audience or to a group of people who have already opted in should have a higher response rate than emailing a group you’ve never corresponded with before. Use your response rate to estimate how many more people you need to contact to secure all the participants you need for your study.

A good baseline would be to start with emailing 5-10 times the number of people you want to talk to, but this can vary tremendously depending on how niche your recruiting needs are, who you are emailing, and so on.

If people aren't opening your email, test some new subject lines. If users are opening your email and not responding, start your edits with the body copy. Are you providing clear details? Is your incentive appropriate for who you’re asking and what you’re asking them to do? 

After making edits, send the next batch of emails out. Then, gauge the response rate for the next batch. Repeat this process until you've acquired the necessary number of participants for your research. Depending on the study, this may take only a few batches of emails, or it may require more extensive efforts. 

Keep in mind that the more participants you need and the more particular criteria you have, the more recruitment emails you’ll need to send. It’s also usually easier to fill your study a few weeks ahead of time; the shorter notice the study is, the more difficult it will be to find the right users to talk to (but keep in mind that setting up interviews too far ahead of time can lead people to forget). 

Finally, it’s okay to send follow-up emails. If someone doesn’t respond to your first attempt at contact, you can email them one more time since they may have just forgotten to reply. But if they still don’t respond, make a note of it and stop emailing them for a while. 

The First Outreach Email

The copy of the initial outreach email doesn’t have to be elaborate; keep it simple to avoid wasting time. An attention-grabbing subject line is also necessary — if users aren’t enticed to open the email, they won’t read the content inside.  

Your first email to possible participants should cover: 

  • The general topic of the study
  • How to participate
  • Where and when to participate 
  • The benefit of participating (a.k.a. the incentive
  • A link to your screener survey.

You’ll want to set up a screener survey to send in your first email, too. A screener survey consists of a set of questions that respondents answer so you can gauge candidates' eligibility and choose the best-fit participants.  

Setting Up the Initial Email 

Use Templates

When possible, use templates for email recruiting. You can make your own or adapt one you found online.

You can save templates within your email settings or in a separate document for reference. To save your teams the most time, we suggest putting together templates for every email in the sequence of outreach emails, from initial outreach to the final thank you. 

Opt-in form research email to recruit participants
An example of an initial outreach template we use at User Interviews.

Only Share What They Need to Know 

In the initial email, offer just enough information for potential participants to understand the general topic of the study. It’s good for them to know something (if it’s a topic that interests them, they’re more likely to sign up and provide good feedback); at the same time, it’s best not to disclose details about the type of participant you're targeting or even specifics about the goal of the research sessions. 

When you provide too much information, you run the risk of “professional” researchers (people who are only interested in the incentive you’re offering) guessing the answers you want to hear in your screener survey. As a result, you get less helpful data. Providing too much information can also bias participants toward certain answers (even if they don’t realize their opinion has been swayed).

Say you're conducting early UX research for a grocery store brand (pre COVID-19) and you want to learn more about whether or not shoppers would prefer to shop online. Does that store’s primary audience want to buy their groceries online? Would they spend more or less money at the store, on average? You could phrase the main idea of your study like so: 

“We are interested in speaking to people about their grocery shopping habits.” 

This phrasing gives participants an idea of what the research is about (grocery shopping) but doesn't give them enough details to game the system (such as stating you want to learn about online shopping preferences or which store brand you’re doing the research for). You’re more likely to get the right participants when their answers are unbiased.

Note: Take the same precautions when setting up the screener survey. For example, continuing with our grocery store brand example, a good question to ask is, “How often do you grocery shop?” instead of a leading question such as, “Do you grocery shop once a week?” 

Choose the Right Incentive 

To increase your response rate and encourage users to participate, offer an appropriate incentive. Consider things like:

  • Who you’re reaching out to and what their time is worth (i.e., are you targeting consumers or professionals?)
  • Where the study takes place (i.e., is it in a research lab? Your office? Remote?)
  • The amount of time you need from them (i.e., is it an hour-long chat? A two-week diary study?).

When recruiting participants from your customer base for 10-15 minute tests or surveys, you may not even need to offer an incentive since they already have a relationship with your brand. However, when you’re conducting more extensive studies, an incentive is usually necessary. 

If you’re looking for more guidance on offering the right incentives for research studies, take a look at our user research incentive calculator

Approve Participants 

Once you start getting positive responses to your outreach, the next step is to scan through screener survey responses and choose the most eligible candidates. We recommend notifying participants of their acceptance sooner rather than later.

If your research is in-person or happening at a later date, include details such as where and when the study will be (we recommend scheduling participants with a tool such as Calendly to simplify your life considerably, or you can use Research Hub from User Interviews). Provide clear details for the participant, such as where to park and how to access the building. The more useful information you can include about how participants can arrive on time and prepared, the better.  

If users can participate remotely, send the approval email with instructions on how to complete the study, any needed access credentials, and a refresher on where and the when (if it’s moderated).

When you're recruiting user research participants by email, the sequence of emails you send is just as important as their content.
An example of an email template to send participants their approval notification after they’ve scheduled a time.

Don’t Forget to Send Reminders 

You don't want to just assume your research is at the top of participants' minds. Life happens, and people sometimes forget. An excellent way to protect your research efforts from no-shows is to send helpful reminder emails. 

You don't want to send too many reminders (or you'll risk seeming spammy), but sending a reminder email a day in advance is appropriate. We also recommend a day-of reminder. 

For unmoderated research (such as a simple usability testing task), keep track of who has responded and send reminder emails to those who haven’t. If a participant hasn't responded in 72 hours, a reminder email is an appropriate gentle nudge. Another touchpoint is okay five days later, and a final touchpoint 7-10 days later is sufficient. If, after three reminders, a participant hasn't gotten back to you, it's best to move on.  

We also suggest sending calendar invites for your research studies. When a person responds to the calendar invite, it may put a reminder in their smartphone. Between email reminders and smartphone notifications, your research is unlikely to be overlooked or forgotten.

Note: Looking for a specific audience to participate in your user research? User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing participants in the U.S. and Canada. Find your first three participants for free. Or, streamline research with your own users in Research Hub (forever free for up to 100 participants). 

Issue the Incentive and Show Appreciation 

User testing recruitment emails: issue an incentive and send a thank you email.

Once you conclude your research, it's good practice to send the incentive for participating in your research promptly. Participants may not expect their reward right away, but you don’t want to leave them hanging for too long or they might not respond again in the future. 

If you have the option to automate your incentives, do so. Issuing the incentive and saying thank you is a crucial step in the email recruitment process, but when that responsibility is handed off or automated, teams can spend time on other projects and tasks. 

When sending these emails out yourself, though, we suggest waiting no more than 2-3 days to issue incentives. Teams can schedule a batch of incentive emails to automatically send on a specific date, avoiding the efforts of having to send incentives one at a time. 

For unmoderated remote studies, we suggest having an automatic email set up to send after the survey, submission, or online interview is complete. An automatic reward is commonplace for online research, so it's what most participants may expect. However, if it's easiest for your team, sending one batch of incentive emails out a couple of days post research is sufficient.  

While the incentive can be thought of like a “thank you,” it's still important to show appreciation for your participants by actually thanking them in the body of your email. Within your incentive email, take a few minutes to write a quick one- or two-sentence message demonstrating your thanks.  

Remind your participants that their feedback is helpful and appreciated. When participants feel valued and can wrap up their contact with your company on a positive note, you're more likely to see engagement from them in the future. The extra time it takes to send a thank-you email is ultimately worth it for user retention rates. 

How User Interviews Streamlines Participant Recruitment

When you need a hand with recruitment, User Interviews can help you source qualified participants efficiently. With our panel of over 350,000 vetted professionals and consumers, you can find almost any niche you need to study represented on our Recruit platform. And if we don’t have enough of your target audience, we’ll actively recruit new participants. Alternatively, you can use Research Hub to streamline and track research with existing customers (now free for up to 100 participants!). 

Recruiting Participants Who Aren’t (Necessarily) Existing Customers

Manage participants all from within User Interviews

DIY participant recruiting is time consuming; the more criteria you want to meet, the harder it is to find enough participants. But recruiting on User Interviews is simple: You tell us which demographics you want and draft a screener survey, then we match you with participants who meet those criteria. 

You can currently target over 500 different professions, locations in the U.S. and Canada, any ethnicity, any income level, and more. To further sort by psychographics and behaviors, use our tools to build a screener survey.

We’ll handle the email outreach (though you’re free to tinker with our templates), so you’re free to set up automatic participant approval or manually comb through the list to find your favorites as they’re added to your project. We only invite participants who already meet some of your criteria.

Our median time to match you with your first qualified participant is just two hours.

We handle a lot of the other details around successful research recruiting, too. We vet our participants (to make sure they are who they say they are) and offer a calendar integration so that participants pick a time that works for you (rather than emailing back and forth to discuss times). Finally, we’ll process incentive payments (via Amazon gift card) and issue 1099’s automatically (you are still responsible for funding the incentives, though). 

And lest we forget, you only pay for each participant that successfully completes your research study. Learn more about pricing here.

Recruiting Your Own Customers

You can easily keep track of all of your participants, projects, team members, etc within User Interviews

If you want to recruit people from within your existing customer base, Research Hub offers all of the tools to keep track of outreach, send reminders, and automate incentives. 

Research Hub helps you build a dedicated panel of users. Within this tool, your team can store specific information about users, which enables you to quickly filter through users and find the most eligible participants for different studies.  

When you use Research Hub to recruit from your existing customer base, you have access to many of the same tools that come with Recruit. Research Hub provides the tools to help teams set up screener surveys in minutes, and it comes pre-stocked with email templates easily modified to suit specific needs. 

Research Hub makes it easy to track communications frequency with users. It offers a breakdown of the last time you contacted them, how many times they've participated in studies before, how much they’ve earned in study incentives, and more. It’s far more effective than that internal spreadsheet that your coworkers are supposed to be updating (but no one does).

To get started, create an account and upload a spreadsheet of the end users you’d like to reach (read this for more on using your company’s CRM to find the right users for your research project). Research Hub is free for the first 100 participants you add to the platform.

Is Recruiting User Research Participants by Email Right for You? 

Before you dive into internal email recruitment, consider the scope of your recruitment needs. How often are you conducting UX studies? How big is your team? Do you have the bandwidth either to automate or manually create all the emails you need for each participant?

If the answer is yes, then use this guide to send the right emails at the right time. But if it’s more time than you’re able to take on, consider letting User Interviews do the work for you.

Olivia Seitz

Olivia is a content strategist at Grow & Convert who loves science, cats, and swing dancing. She enjoys a mix of writing, editing, and strategy in every work week.

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