ICYMI, User Interviews just released the 2022 UX Research Tools Map—a fantastical guide to 230+ solutions in the UXR landscape.
After weeks of combing through the many tools available for UX researchers, we’ve gotten a pretty good grasp on what’s out there.
Today, we’ll explore the ‘22 map’s High Kingdom of Recruiting and Panel Management region, discussing:
- Why (and when) building your own research panel is valuable
- How to recruit your own user research panel
- Dedicated research recruitment and panel management tools
- UX research tools with secondary panel management features
- Email and CRM tools that can double as panel management solutions
- Tools for DIY-ing recruitment and panel management
🌱 Psst—User Interviews’s recruitment pool includes over 2.4 million vetted participants in 7 countries. But we know that many user researchers want to build and manage their own panel, which is why we also offer a Free Forever plan for our powerful panel management tools, Research Hub.
Note: This post was originally published in May of 2021 by Carrie Boyd. We refreshed it December 2022 with more tools, new data, and updated pricing information.
Why (and when) is building your own research panel valuable?
Managing your own user research panel is beneficial for several reasons:
- Faster insights: Having your own pool of pre-screened users (often loyal customers) speeds up the recruitment process and overall research cycles.
- Easier access to niche participants: Some participants (e.g. elevator mechanics or fire safety facility managers) are harder to come by than others (e.g. bartenders or cosmetologists). Maintaining a pool of these niche participants saves you the time and energy of having to repeatedly search for these difficult-to-reach audiences.
- Richer participant profiles: Talking to the same people multiple times gives you a deeper understanding of their evolving needs and preferences.
- Saved time and cost: In this economy, many researchers are facing budget and resource constraints. Effective panel management can provide an ROI that alleviates some of these constraints, saving you time, effort, and money.
Depending on what you’re studying, it may be best to recruit from a customer panel, an external recruitment audience like User Interviews’s, or both. Here’s a graphic from Bureaucracy-Free Research Recruitment (a guide to customer recruitment for product managers, UX designers, and marketers) that breaks down what to consider when selecting the right pool:
Of course, as with most things worth doing, there’s more than one way to recruit your own panel.
💡 Learn more: How to recruit participants for qualitative UX research
How to recruit your own user research panel
For our State of User Research 2022 report, we surveyed 562 researchers—including full-time UX researchers, UX designers, product managers, research operations managers, and other folks who do user research as part of their jobs—to learn more about their roles, responsibilities, and processes.
Nearly 200 tools are represented in this data—we asked about 75 tools by name in our survey, and participants wrote in over 120 more as part of open-response questions.
That’s obviously a lot of ground to cover, so we’re only going to focus on the best and most popular panel management tools in this article. We’ve broadly grouped these into four categories:
- Dedicated panel management tools
- UXR tools with secondary panel management features
- Email/CRM tools
- DIY research recruitment methods
Bear in mind that you can choose to combine a few tools to create a flow that works for you or opt for a single multipurpose tool that gets the job done automagically.
📚 Further Reading: How to Break Open the UX Research Recruiting Bottleneck
Dedicated panel management tools
A dedicated research tool can help you recruit and manage a participant panel more effectively. The purpose-built panel management tools we’ll cover today are:
- User Interviews
- Great Question
Since these tools are built with researcher needs in mind, they come with features that make participant recruitment easier—which is especially useful as your research program scales.
According to the 2022 State of User Research Report, User Interviews was the most popular tool for recruiting your own users:
In addition to our own panel of users (available via Recruit), our Research Hub platform can make your research ops run smoothly by helping you build and manage your own panel, taking care of participant scheduling, keeping track of important participant data, and even managing incentive distribution after a research session.
View a walkthrough introduction to Research Hub by our Customer Success Manager, Christy, in the video below.
Research Hub’s pricing plans were designed for teams who need ongoing access to unlimited participants.
Our Free Forever plan is great for individuals and small teams who want to save time by streamlining their research, while our Essential plan is designed for teams with frequent research needs and a growing panel to manage. We also offer Custom plans, which are great for large teams with custom software, support, or procurement needs.
For our Essential and Custom plans, we also offer two optional add-ons: Document Signing and additional SSO/SAML support (although our platform—even on a free plan—is secure by design).
ARCS (by Marketing Systems Group) is a research CRM tool that allows you to run comprehensive survey campaigns, find and qualify participants, automate scheduling, and manage all the research you conduct with your panel. It’s hosted on the cloud, so you don’t have to download any software, and you can access it directly from your phone or web browser.
Check out the ARCS overview video below.
ARCS doesn’t provide specific pricing information on their website, but you can contact their team to learn more.
HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management and qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. It allows you to manage hundreds or millions of participants, save participant data, and invite or exclude participants based on individual characteristics or past activity.
Learn more in the HubUX introduction video below.
HubUX has a free pricing plan for single-team researchers looking to recruit on an ad-hoc basis, as well as more robust pricing plans starting at $250/month.
Ethnio is a participant management platform that includes features for incentives distribution, screener surveys, and scheduling. Its main differentiator is its web intercepts feature, which allows you to target users in-app, but it doesn’t have a public pool to recruit from and it’s one of the pricier options on the market.
👉 Check out Ethnio vs. User Interviews: How Do the UX Research Recruitment Tools Compare? for a 1-1 breakdown of each platform’s features, service, pricing, and reviews.
Ethnio offers a 14-day free trial. After the trial, you can sign up for one of Ethnio’s four pricing plans, starting at $79/month.
Great Question is a customer feedback platform to streamline research operations with a single tool. From recruiting panelists to scheduling customer interviews, sending incentives, and synthesizing and sharing insights, in a UX repository, it's all taken care of in Great Question.
However, GQ is still a relatively new product, so its features may not be as robust as others on this list.
Check out the Great Question demo video below.
Great Question allows you to start building your panel with a free trial, but you need to purchase a paid plan to go live. Pricing plans start at $10/month for 1-researcher teams and 20 panelists.
Panelfox is a panel management and research recruiting software that delivers bulk emails, surveys, scheduling, reminders, and more to level-up your organization. Like Great Question, however, Panelfox is still in its early stages, so it’s a less advanced product than others on this list. It also doesn’t offer a public panel option for those who need it.
See a demo of the Panelfox platform in the video below.
Panelfox only offers one pricing option, starting at $999/month.
UXR tools with secondary panel management features
Since you’re already using various testing tools for UX research, it’s worth looking into which of those tools also offer panel management features. In this section, we’ll cover:
Maze is the leading continuous discovery platform that empowers product teams to collect and consume user insights, with CRM capabilities that can function as a panel management resource.
Although Maze didn’t make the cut for the top 5 tools used for panel recruiting and management in our State of User Research Report, 12% of survey respondents cited it as their chosen usability testing tool.
From recruitment to product research and reporting, Maze enables everyone to run great research, make better product decisions, and scale insights company-wide. Check out Maze’s overview video below.
Maze offers three pricing plans for different needs, including a free plan for individuals and small teams and paid plans starting at $99/month.
Dovetail is a customer knowledge platform that helps you analyze, synthesize, summarize, and share your customer research in one collaborative and searchable platform. Transcribe video recordings, find themes in unstructured data, and do more with your research.
Like Maze, Dovetail’s primary function isn’t panel management, although it has panel management features. According to the 2022 State of User Research Report, 21% of respondents use Dovetail as their chosen platform for analysis and storing.
View a product walkthrough in the Dovetail demo video below.
Dovetail offers a free forever plan for individuals getting started with a simple project, as well as more robust paid plans starting at $15/month.
Qualtrics CoreXM is the foundational research tool for building, launching, and analyzing survey research. With CoreXM, you can bring siloed or outsourced operations into a holistic, end-to-end platform for all insights that you are looking to gather and act upon.
Considered a standalone UXR platform for its robust features, Qualtrics offers CRM capabilities as well as various testing tools. 31% of this year’s surveyed respondents said they use Qualtrics as their chosen survey tool, the second-most popular option after SurveyMonkey.
Additionally, Qualtrics is one of User Interviews’s many integration partners, so you can use both platforms to run flexible, sophisticated surveys with the highest-quality participants.
Condens is a software tool that makes storing, analyzing and sharing user research data easier, faster and more enjoyable. With a special focus on ease of use and fast onboarding, you can get started with Condens in a few minutes. It also offers CRM features that can help teams with panel management.
Learn how to get started with Condens in their walkthrough video below.
Condens offers a 15-day free trial. After the trial, you can continue using the platform by signing up for one of their pricing plans, starting at $40/month.
SurveyMonkey is a powerful survey tool that allows researchers to create surveys with complex logic as a way to learn more about their customers. This can be a very helpful first step in building a research panel; based on survey responses, you can then match customers to the right research studies.
SurveyMonkey was the most popular survey tool in our 2022 State of User Research Report, used by 38% of our respondents.
Many researchers use SurveyMonkey and User Interviews together to recruit their own panels. An example of how these two tools work together would be collecting Net Promoter Scores (NPS) via SurveyMonkey, then adding participants to a User Interviews panel for research down the road.
SurveyMonkey has a few different plans available, depending on your needs. Individual plans start at $39/month and team plans start at $25 per user per month. They also have enterprise plans available for teams that need advanced features.
If you’re managing your research panel recruitment on your own, an email tool or CRM can help you organize your outreach to participants. In this section, we’ll discuss:
Although only 5% of the 2022 State of User Research survey respondents said they use CRM tools to recruit their own participants, it was still the 3rd-most popular tool for this use case, after User Interviews and Respondent.
Many teams already have access to an email tool or CRM through their marketing or sales departments, and bringing that data to your research panel can help you recruit the right participants faster.
Mailchimp is primarily used for sending great emails to your customers, but it also has some powerful audience management tools that can help you identify and manage lists of good people to contact for research purposes.
Hear an elevator pitch for Mailchimp by Mailchimp partner and Lead Strategist at Email Industries Adam Holden-Bache in the video below.
If you’re curious about using a marketing CRM to manage your research efforts, Mailchimp has a free version to get you started. If you use the platform regularly, you’ll likely need to upgrade to a paid plan, which starts at $13 a month.
Salesforce is the go-to tool for managing a sales pipeline, and it’s also a fairly popular way to recruit a research panel. This can be a good solution if your organization is already using Salesforce to manage other customer-facing journeys (and is trying to keep the number of tools you use to a minimum).
Learn more about Salesforce in their introduction video below.
Salesforce is a sophisticated tool with complex pricing. Their Sales product, which is likely what your organization would use to monitor the sales pipeline, starts at $25 per user per month.
HubSpot's integrated CRM platform contains the marketing, sales, service, operations, and website-building software businesses need to drive growth. Although it’s most commonly used for marketing and revenue teams, HubSpot’s CRM features can be adapted for UX research panel management as well.
Learn more about HubSpot in their introduction video below.
HubSpot’s pricing plans are organized by use case and the number of contacts you need to add to the CRM. They have a number of free tools and most of their paid plans start at $45/month.
DIY research recruitment and panel management
For a totally DIY approach, you can use a combination of single- or general-purpose tools to recruit your panel. This can include things like:
- Social media
A DIY approach can be useful when budgets are tight or enterprise restrictions prevent you from using an external CRM.
Calendly is a well-known and consistently popular tool for recruiting your own panel, although it didn’t make it into the top tools in our State of User Research Report this year.
Typically, researchers who use Calendly also use at least one other tool to recruit their own participants. This makes sense, since Calendly is not a robust CRM for storing participant data. It’s a scheduling tool—and a fantastic one at that—which can make setting up sessions simpler for both participants and researchers.
With Calendly, you can send a single link to every participant and they can choose a time on your schedule that works best for them. Everything automatically updates, so you won’t have to worry about double booking.
Learn more about how Calendly works in their introductory video below.
Calendly offers a free plan, which should be enough for most users, but you can upgrade to premium plans starting at $8 a month.
2. Social media
Nearly a fifth (19%) of respondents said they used organic social media to recruit their own users for research, while 8% said they used paid social media.
Social media is a great way to reach out to engaged customers for participation in research—sharing your research panel’s opt-in form or linking to your Calendly for a research session can help you reach more customers. However, you might end up with a broader pool of participants than you’re looking for.
Pricing for social media depends, of course, on the social platform you’re using and whether or not you’re relying on paid or organic reach. It may be a better (cheaper) option for teams who already have a large social presence, as they’ll have an easier time reaching the right audience without having to pay.
3. Excel, Sheets, Airtable, or other spreadsheet tools
Last but not least, DIY panels can be built and managed using spreadsheet tools like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or Airtable.
According to the 2022 State of User Research Report, 75% of teams are already using Google Workspace, 55% are using Microsoft 365, and 24% are using Airtable.
If you’re already using or paying for any of these tools, they may be one of the cheapest and easiest options for building a panel. However, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for—many of these tools require manual work and don’t include the key integrations or research tools you may be looking for.
👉 Learn the pros and cons of using Excel vs. dedicated panel management software in this Linkedin article by Q One Tech’s COO, Dexter Chew.
Pricing for spreadsheet tools depends on the tool you’re using—but many teams are already using some kind of spreadsheet tool, like Google Sheets, Excel, or Airtable, so it may not be an additional cost to use it for panel management as well.
💍 Can one tool rule them all? Explore the differences between all-in-one UX research tools and integrated, best-in-class tech stacks.
More tools for recruiting, retaining, and managing your own user panel
There you have it, the 17 most popular tools for recruiting and managing your own user research panel. You can choose to go with a dedicated research tool like User Interviews to manage everything in one place, or take a more DIY approach with social media + Calendly + an email tool or CRM.
🧙✨ If you didn’t see what you were looking for here, explore more tools in the 2022 UX Research Tools Map, a fantastical guide to the UXR software landscape.
Looking to manage your participant data, schedule sessions, and distribute incentives all from one tool? Try Research Hub for free, forever.