"Where do you get your participants from?"
Databases, referrals, online or street recruitment...There are many ways to find people who would like to participate in interview sessions.
This must be the number one question people ask us about our job. Whether it is a client who books a project, some other spectators to an interview or a friend. They all want to know how we find people to participate in the sessions. Here is a short run down on our usual recruitment methods and some more exotic ones we have come across over the past couple of years.
Recruitment via a recruiter’s database
This is the most ‘classic’ way of recruiting participants: people who are interested in participating in market research sign up with special agencies (“recruiters”). At sign up, these potential participants receive an extensive questionnaire from the recruiter, covering everything from age and car to the number of kids or their health record. When we need participants, we then approach these recruiters, who check their database for suitable participants who match our criteria. Usually, not all criteria we need in a UX test are covered in the database. Thus, the recruiter pre-filters for various characteristics like age, gender, or type of smartphone and then calls matching candidates and asks them if they fit the remaining criteria. If they do, they get an invitation for the study.
Via client’s list
Our recruiters are great, they try to fulfill even the strangest requests. However, sometimes they reach their limit, too. When we’re looking for participants who, e.g., work with specific models of professional microscopes or who use a very specific software for tax consultants, chances that they are listed in a recruiter’s database are slim. This is when we need the help of our clients. In a B2B context they often know who purchased their products and can get their customers’ OK to be contacted for market research purposes, which enables them to provide us a list of suitable candidates. We then take care of making appointments and explaining the details.
With some target groups, especially for rare diseases, it is sometimes best to have participants help with recruitment. When trying to find participants with specific illnesses, for example, they often know others who suffer from the same disease. In these cases, we ask them to tell others about the study and they then contact us.
When it is not possible to get a list with potential participants from the client, another possibility to find specific customers is to ask them for participation on the client’s website. Visitors are asked to fill out a short survey (checking for our recruitment criteria) and when they match, they are asked to participate in the study. This works best for phone or remote interviews when we are not dependent on all participants living in a specific city.
Occasionally, we have used self-help groups (online and offline) as resources for recruitment. Of course, this requires some very clear communication with the leader of the group or the admin of the forum beforehand. They then ask members if it would be okay for someone to come by and explain the study, to leave some flyers in the group’s room or to post online. Especially for some rarer diseases this was a benefit for both sides: we found highly motivated participants and the participants could help in designing products for them.
Flyers and advertisements
Yes, we have done that, too. Either put up an ad in a relevant magazine or hand them out on the street, asking for participants for a study. Or if all else fails, distribute some flyers in an area where you hope to meet your target group. We did this once when we were looking for people who recently visited a shop of a mobile provider: handing out flyers in front of the store gave us our participants (with the owner’s permission, of course).
Sometimes car OEMs ask for drivers of rare (premium class) vehicles like Porsche, Tesla or executive models of premium brands like BMW, Audi, Mercedes. Usually, these owners are not in recruiter databases, at least not in sufficient numbers. In this situation we hire street recruiters. They target areas where such car owners can be found and directly approached, i.e., in parking houses or malls. The advantage of this approach is that we already know that the car would fit our target sample. Then they only need to wait until the driver comes back and intercept him to ask if she or he is interested in participating. This approach is of course very costly and only recommended if the study goals really cannot be answered with easier to recruit users.
There are many ways to find the right users for your project. Some of them are more difficult and take more time. But as one of our recruiters says on his homepage: “If it is alive, we can recruit it.”