Research recruitment: How to find participants for a research study

Here are some answers to the research recruitment question of how to find participants for a research study. And not just any participants, but the right ones.

In this article, I discuss:

Finding the right consumers

This real-life example from Basel Fakhoury, now CEO at User Interviews, might top the list of putting in the effort. First, he needed to connect with travelers to get their input on a new product. So he bought refundable JetBlue tickets to get airside at Boston Logan International Airport and talk to travelers.

Basel had his audience for the research nailed. Unfortunately, finding research participants for him meant going to the airport. So before ever starting, be clear about who we are trying to reach, why we’re trying to get them, and where they hang out.

This could be as simple as just declaring which one of our Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) we’re trying to connect with.

But also be clear about the limitations of each strategy, as well. For example, talking to travelers at Boston Logon might work. There are many to approach, and even if most decline to chat, you can still get some feedback. That wouldn’t necessarily work at a smaller regional airport.

The same is true for different platforms and strategies, explained Matthew Handegaard, data scientist at Voxpopme, on “Reel Talk, the market research podcast”

When you look at panels and communities, you might have 2 percent of the population represented, he said.

“Sometimes the question is how many consumers can we find?” he said. “And with the qualitative research that we do here, we usually look for dozens or hundreds. So we can get deep insights from just a few of our responses when you use short videos.”

Who you should talk to, depends on what you are trying to accomplish, said Greg Ambrose, a Toronto-based strategy, loyalty, and research professional. Sometimes that might be general consumers, early adopters or long-time customers.

“Sometimes it might be one-on-one conversation, shadowing or observation,” he said.

Example: How do consumers feel about QR codes usage?

Asking good screener questions to find the best study participants

Research pro Brian Monschein said on “BRIght Ideas” that good screener questions matter and help you find the right participants for your survey.

“There’s certain question wording and pitfalls that if you avoid them, they will get you better results,” Brian said.

He said that a screener question is meant to help you identify a target.

“You want to try to be as efficient as possible with your screeners to identify your targets as quickly as possible,” Brian said.

"Leverage the appropriate tools for the situation at hand."

“If they don’t qualify, you are just wasting your time,” Brian said. “Keep your screeners as tight as possible so you can get those people screened quickly.”

Read next: How to write research questions

Brian said to avoid “yes” or “no” questions in a screener.

“They are very easy to answer and can tempt a respondent to answer less thoughtfully if they are just trying to qualify themselves as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that sometimes respondents try to be agreeable and answer “yes.”

Don’t ask:

Do you buy bottled water?

  • Yes
  • No

Instead, ask:

Which brands of bottled water have you purchased in the past month:

  • Brand A
  • Brand B
  • Brand C
  • Brand D
  • I don’t buy bottled water

“That forces them to think more about their answer, and not only do you know that they buy bottled water but also the brands they buy,” Brian said.

Be clear about the goal

Are you just trying to understand a few use cases? Are you trying to make significant changes in the company, the product, or something else?

Sebastian Schuliaquer, insights director at Kellogg, said on a “Reel Talk” episode that he is trying to make complicated business decisions based on the research he conducts. So it’s necessary to remember how to get the insights you need to make those decisions.

Also, he reminds us to know what insights already exist within the organization. The wheel does not need to be recreated if it already exists.

Read next: Why you need centralized data to help your brand be more customer-centric

Determine the type of research study to perform

Different research studies work well in different situations. It all depends on what you need to find out. As we mentioned, quantitative research will get you the what, and qualitative research will get you the why. There certainly are several options:

To name a few.

Read next: How Faurecia determined how to research the future of communication in cars

And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not as simple as picking one type of research over another, said Raj Manocha, CEO of Methodify, on an episode of “Reel Talk.” It’s not uncommon that you need more than one source of feedback to solve your problem, which means you might have to do a combination of these. Of course, finding research participants will also be on the list for all those types.

“You have to mix those panels up to solve different things,” he said. “You have to be okay with multi-panel approaches because people aren’t answering the exact same way. And then it comes back to the quality of your survey.”

What will be the length of the research?

Basel, as we discussed in our design-thinking article, said research should happen on an ongoing and iterative basis. He said that if you think of research as a data point in your decision-making, there are plenty of ways you can insert it along the way.

Research recruitment: What’s the incentive to participate?

Then let’s figure out what’s in it for the participants. That could be a monetary reward. But depending on the brand, it could also be some brand experience. So to answer that question, it comes down to what motivates the specific people you’re trying to reach.

Do they prefer a gift card or do they prefer a discount, or do they prefer some other kind of brand experience? Some people might see it as an incentive they can help their favorite brand. Others might find that rude if you mention it as their only incentive.

Either way, there has to be some incentive for people to participate.

“It is the Wild Wild West right now,” said Raj. “The challenge right now is what’s the value back to the consumer to give feedback?”

Also, keep in mind what are the participants’ preferences. For example, would they instead answer a video survey, hop on a call or answer a text-based study?

Finding research participants - "Be open to change. That's going to be interesting to see in the future - how panels adapt."

Recruitment strategies for finding research participants

Talk to who you already know

Sometimes we can make recruitment strategies too complicated. Why do I have to find new participants if I should just be talking to my current customers? It’s something to consider, and of course, it does depend on your project. If an intimate knowledge of the product is necessary, only customers can help you there.

Working with a recruitment agency

You could consider working with a recruitment agency that can find the right type of participants for your study.

Software solution with built-in audiences

Market research software platforms like Voxpopme have built-in audiences that allow you to quickly get valuable and usable consumer feedback.

Read next: Technology needs assessment: How to pick the right tech for your market research

Use the right technology to improve research recruitment

Reach people where they are – that’s likely their phone. The collection might also become more in the moment. For example, a quick video survey pops up after you take a specific action. Then it will ask you, “why did you just take that action?”

“That will resonate much more with consumers and is much more profound for marketers and insights professionals,” said Raj. “You are asking the exact question that you need. It’s not 1,000 questions of fluff and becomes much more powerful.”

Audition participants

You can also run auditions for people who want to participate in a video research study to ensure they are the best fit for the study and the study is a good fit for them.

Daniel Berkal, SVP of Research at The Palmerston Group, said asking video audition questions is an useful research recruitment strategy to ensure the right people end up participating.

Once you’ve found the right participants, make sure to offer them a good experience.

“I’ve likened participants to the polar ice caps,” said Lisa Wilding-Brown, CEO of InnovateMR. “Once they are gone, they are gone. I think we all have this collective responsibility to design really great survey instruments that are representative and inclusive and as engaging as possible.”

The best way to build your market research project is a personal choice. I hope the options I outlined are helpful and give you some ideas for making the recruitment process easier and the insights you need to make the right decisions.

As Jenn Vogel, chief revenue officer at Voxpopme and host of our market research podcast said:

“Even if you have the wrong data available, somebody will still make a decision. They’ll just base it on the wrong facts. That’s why it’s so important to commission the right study with the right people.”

Read next: How to conduct remote research with the right technology

What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?