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How to find participants for your User Research

Stefano Serafinelli
March 9, 2022

Finding and selecting the participants for your user research is one of the most important tasks and, at the same time, one of the ones that generate the most doubts.

In a previous article, we have written about the importance of choosing the right participants for our research. Now we will focus on talking about how we can get them. With regard to great features, the main options that we have available are 3, although there is a fourth that we will talk about at the end of the article and with which we must be especially careful.

1. Recruitment through your own database

If we are interested in researching the users of our product, the simplest thing is to select them from our own database.

The great advantages of this method are that we can have complete control over the process and that we can find them cheaply. In addition, if our clients are already profiled within the database according to the characteristics that we are looking for, we can go straight for them.

To carry out the selection, the identified participants can be contacted by phone or asked by email to answer a short survey to filter them by certain parameters that we still do not know if they meet.
It is important, before getting in touch with our candidates, that we make sure we have their permission to do so as not all of our clients may have agreed to be contacted to participate in studies.

On the other hand, for various reasons, capturing clients from our database may not be possible. Maybe we don't have a database or we don't have permission to use it. Or we may simply be interested in doing research with potential customers and not current ones. In this case, we have to go looking for our users elsewhere

2. Recruitment through a panel

It is probably the most used method in professional environments and the ideal one if we have enough budget because it allows us to delegate an important part of the selection process while maintaining control over it.
There are numerous agency-run consumer panels that often provide qualitative or quantitative recruitment services for third parties. These are fairly large panels, made up of very varied and also unusual types of users.

With the panels, it is common to send them a screener, that is, a questionnaire with the questions we want to ask the panel candidates to select only those who meet the profile we are looking for. All this, of course, without revealing what features interest us, to avoid involving participants who lie to participate and get their incentive.
These panels usually send back the answers of the selected people so that they can be reviewed before the study and confirm their participation. In addition, they are usually also in charge of making them sign nondisclosure and personal data protection agreements and of paying them their incentive once they have successfully participated.

The main disadvantage of using a panel is their cost, which depends on two factors: the type of participant we are looking for (less common profiles, such as doctors or professionals for B2B studies, are usually more expensive) and the duration of the study.
The country you are doing research in, also has a strong impact on recruitment costs.

Quantitative studies such as surveys, card sorting, or tree testing are usually managed with different panels and the costs are much lower (even 2 euros per user) although the quality of the sample is usually lower as well.

In both cases, the prices are not high at all if we take into account how important it is to investigate with correct users and the economic return that this implies for our business.
However, sometimes there are budget constraints and we need to find cheaper ways to do user research.

3. Recruitment through social networks

Recruiting participants through social networks is a method that can save us money but requires extra care to ensure that it is being done correctly.

First of all, you have to remember the first rule of any recruitment: never reveal to the candidate what profile you are looking for. Posting ads on Facebook or Twitter clearly explaining that, for example, we are interested in finding drivers of a SEAT car who live in Madrid for a paid study, will result in receiving many requests from candidates who neither live in Madrid nor drive a SEAT or don't even own a car.

Identifying and weeding out low-quality candidates is key to getting results that can be used to benefit our product. But it can also be very complicated once we have told them what we are looking for.

For this reason, when we are using social networks to call potential participants to take part in a study, it is important to provide only the main details about our study (what it consists of, how long it lasts, and what reward will be received for it) and direct those who are interested to a questionnaire to screen them out before confirming their participation.

Recruitment through Social networks can save us some money, but not the preparation and management work that always has to be carried out and that could be even more intense when we are the ones who take care of all the phases of recruitment. In certain situations, it might even be more affordable for us to delegate this task to a panel instead of spending our own resources.

Social networks, however, can be a very valid source of participants in very specific cases. For example, there is a no faster and easier way to find a B2B profile than searching on LinkedIn.

4.Friends & Family

As promised, the fourth way to recruit, the one we advise against in almost all cases: use friends, family, co-workers, or even professional contacts.

This is such a common and dangerous practice for our product that we have dedicated a separate article on the many reasons for not doing research with your friends & family.

The risks related to involving close people in an investigation are many: from not obtaining sincere feedback, to receiving valid opinions but very specific of a profile far from the real user of our product.

In a few words

We researchers have various options available  when it comes to finding participants for our studies, and the decision about which one to use depends above all on the resources we have available and the type of user we are looking for.

If our research does not have a large budget, we can use our own networks or databases to ensure that it always involves the right users and allows us to collect good quality data.

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