I have a 100% success rate in recruiting respondents for qualitative user interviews, and today I’m here to share how you can, too.
For the last 5 years, I have been conducting user research at Three Five Two, and a lot of that work includes engaging participants for qualitative user interviews. I am proud to say I have had a 100% success rate on the projects where I conducted the recruitment of participants. This doesn’t mean that 100% of respondents showed up to the first interview we scheduled—I mean, it’s not that easy all the time. But those participants who had a conflict contacted me before their meeting time to reschedule as opposed to ghosting me and just not showing up. Which is more than I can say in my dating life…but I digress. The point is, for those of you who have experience in research, you know that no-shows are a part of the game. But, with these tips, you’ll be able to end that game with a W in your column.
First, let’s talk tech. Over the last decade, recruiting research respondents has evolved dramatically thanks to online recruitment platforms. These platforms have leveled up the ability to source participants quickly and efficiently. Whether you’re conducting market research, user experience, or user desirability, harnessing the power of online recruitment platforms is crucial for assembling diverse and representative respondent pools. Which, as we know, is crucial for making the right business decisions.
Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have direct access to your target audience through your current user base…perhaps something about how these tips still translate, and maybe some clever plug for the work we do in Next Version sprints
To ensure success in your next recruitment campaign, here are my “Top 10 Tips and Tricks” that I use to recruit research respondents on online platforms. These innovative strategies and best practices empower you to tap into the vast potential of the digital realm and engage a wide spectrum of qualified participants for your studies. (AKA, live the dream)
- Define Your Research Goals: Start by clearly defining your research objectives, so you know the type of participants you need. Defining research goals before recruiting is crucial because it provides clarity and direction to the entire research process. It will help you identify the specific objectives you aim to achieve, guiding you in selecting the right participants, methods, and resources.
Plus, clear research goals enhance the quality of the study because they enable you to stay focused, minimize scope creep, and ultimately increase the likelihood of obtaining meaningful, actionable results.
- Identify Your Target Audience: Sure, you might have a grasp of your company’s target audience. But is that audience the same as the research target audience? It may vary, so it’s important to take the time to determine the specific demographic, psychographic, and other characteristics of the participants you’re looking for.
Deeply understanding your target audience is critical for a research study because it helps you tailor your objectives, methodologies, and communication strategies to the specific needs and preferences of your intended participants, ensuring the study’s relevance and effectiveness. And a well-defined target audience allows for more precise data collection, analysis, and interpretation, leading to clearer insights. And, by keeping that target audience in mind, you create the secret sauce that makes for better engagement and recruitment, ultimately enhancing the quality and impact of your research findings.
- Find the Right Recruiting Platform: Finding the right recruiting platform for a research study ensures the selection of a representative and relevant sample. For most of my research, my favorite platform is User Interviews. They offer many ways to narrow down their large pool of people to find qualified respondents. But, if you are looking for something niche like a C-suite or B2B respondent, you’ll want to choose a platform that caters to those areas. A well-suited platform streamlines the recruitment process, saving time and resources while improving data quality.
- Pre-Screen for Eligibility: Pre-screening for eligibility ensures that participants meet the specific criteria required for the study—And here’s a hot tip: it’s even better when done human to human, as opposed to relying solely on a virtual form or filter. You can virtually narrow all you want, but actually getting on the phone and chatting with candidates is simply the most effective way I have found to make sure you have the right respondents (I’ll talk more about that in my next point, too). When pre-screening is done well, it optimizes your team’s work by focusing resources on the individuals most likely to contribute meaningful data.
- Engage in Personal Outreach: As I brought up in my last point, reaching out to potential participants individually to pre-screen is my biggest secret to success. Direct, personal outreach not only allows you to ask clarifying questions about their responses to the screeners, but also gives you the opportunity to engage them in an articulation question. An articulation question is an open-ended question designed to test a user’s capacity to communicate, which allows you to determine if they are able to speak to the desired subject matter with ease.
Having a conversation is also a chance to establish a personal connection. It is really easy to not show up for an interview when you just sign up online. It is harder to ghost someone you’ve had a conversation with. Especially if you’re charming, like moi. Just remember, most of the time they are not getting an incentive for the pre-screen call, so keep it short!
- Incentivize Participants: Speaking of incentives, make sure you are offering one to your participants for their time. Incentives like gift cards, discounts, or small monetary compensation demonstrate respect and create deeper buy-in. Don’t forget that many participants may have to use their lunch hour or PTO to participate in the study: make it worth their while.
Incentives also encourage interviewees to be more engaged and attentive. It signals that their feedback is valuable (you’re literally investing in it, after all), and gives them a reason to take it seriously. I mean, I think we have ALL had respondents in their car or working on another screen while trying to do the interview. An incentive shows that this is an important call and encourages their full attention.
- Schedule Immediately: If your pre-screen goes well, don’t hesitate! Ask them to pull out their calendars and schedule them for an interview immediately. There is no reason to end the phone call without confirming their interview time, and there is all the reason to keep the momentum going in your favor. Delays can lead to a loss of motivation. Scheduling immediately helps maintain their interest and commitment to the study and shows your enthusiasm for their participation.
- Don’t Give Them Time to Cancel on You: Scheduling a participant for an interview the week of the study is a great way to ensure their commitment and availability, as it minimizes the likelihood of last-minute conflicts or cancellations.
Anyone who has recruited during a Google design sprint knows the magic of immediacy. In fast-paced cycles like those, you may have to schedule them the day before or even the day of! The surprising result is that, because you move so quickly, there’s very little chance of new conflicts arising. Take this thinking into all of your recruitment and watch the magic do its work.
- Follow up in writing: The pre-screen call is a time to verbally set everything up, but you MUST follow up in writing. It’s true that most recruitment platforms will send automated messages with confirmation information, but don’t let that stop you from sending a reminder yourself. Remember, from tip 5, personal outreach is key! Reaching out yourself reminds them that the recruiter is a human, not a machine that could easily be ignored.
That being said, don’t make it harder than it has to be. There is no need to write out an individualized follow-up: here, copy and paste is your friend. Just change the date and time of the interview, and you are ready to send!
- Maintain a Recruitment Log: Keeping a detailed log of recruitment efforts to track your progress helps you replicate the good and move on from what didn’t work. Turns out my therapist was right: writing it down does help!
It’s essential to track and document the recruitment process, to ensure transparency and accountability in participant selection. It helps researchers keep a record of who was approached, when, and their eligibility status, which is crucial for research integrity. Plus, a recruitment log aids in replicability, allowing others to assess and reproduce the recruitment process on future projects. And once you’ve implemented these 10 tips, trust me: people are going to want to use your approach again and again and again and again…
OK, one final point—but I’m not making an 11th, because 10 just sounds better. The true secret of successful recruitment? It’s the intentional, repeated combination of all of these in your process. These “Tips and Tricks” are not just a blueprint for successful participant recruitment, but also a pathway to gathering high-quality, actionable insights. By defining your research goals, identifying your target audience, and selecting the right recruitment platform, you set the stage for success. Toss in pre-screening for eligibility and engaging in personal outreach through meaningful conversations, and you ensure that you assemble the right pool of participants. Finally, add in incentives, prompt scheduling, and proactive follow-ups to minimize the chances of cancellations and disengagement, with a dash of logging the work, and you’ve got an outstanding recipe for repeatable, quality research results.
Anyone else suddenly want to make some brownies? Just me?