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Recruiting Quality Participants for Your Research Project

Today, everyone from auto service centers to hair salons to Disney are conducting consumer research. Why? Because …

“…consumer insights are the rudder of action.”

With market research representing $47 billion in global spend and customer experience growing at a 23% CAGR, finding quality participants for research has become a growing concern for both those starting their journey in consumer research as well as us grizzled veterans.

I need to put a finer point on this. There are between six and eight million surveys completed each day according conversations I’ve had with leaders of top insight companies.

Fortunately, there continues to be significant investment in managed panels and participant marketplaces to address this growing demand. These are trusted sources where researchers can get participants for their surveys and qualitative interviews.

Key Issue 1: Fraudulent Participants

But all this investment in consumer feedback has created a hotbed for fraud. Tia Maurer, Procter & Gamble’s Group Scientist for Products Research Testing Group cited a study they did showing …

“…30% of respondents in a study with 1,000 participants were bots based out of China.”

To validate this, we did similar research including an open-ended question, “What is your favorite color?” to which the number one answer was “ASDF,” followed closely by, “I like that very much.”

But fraud isn’t the only problem. We have all participated in a survey (or even been the author of one) which was far too long to keep you engaged.

Key Issue 2: Poorly Designed Consumer Research

While at Decipher, we regularly reviewed participant dropout logs across thousands of surveys and hundreds of clients. Consistently, we would see a 20% dropout on the first two pages and then a 1% dropout on every page there after, however, time on page speeds up. We believe this is a measure of thoughtfulness.

Why do people stick with surveys? We asked. Respondents felt they didn’t want their early feedback to be lost so they would just rush through.

Tips to a Successful Project

Tip 1: Understand Your Research Operations Stakeholders

Katrina Noelle, president of KNow Research, took the stage at the Northwest Insights Association Annual Future of Insights Summit in Portland, talking about ways to access hard to reach respondents. Her energy and knowledge made for a highly engaging talk chalked full of practical ways we can all think about recruiting those sub 1% IR (Incidence Rate) people.

The majority of stress around research operations centers on recruiting the right people at the right time. This stress is shared by consultants, customers, and respondents in varying degrees. Here is what I mean:

1. Research Consultant

Makes a living doing the hard, and sometimes even the impossible. Yet we feel like we are only as good as our last project. Why? Because our clients are similarly judged.

2. Clients

They have all had at least a handful of projects where respondent quality was poor or under-recruited. At a minimum, this reduces the amount of data they can analyze and can even cast concerns on the entire project from their internal clients.


3. Participants

These people are doing this because they either want to make the world a better place or they are getting some monetary benefit. Regardless, they actually want to do good and if the operational consideration (technology or process) is confusing, it creates stress.

This topic got a little attention in a recent Tweet I posted after attending a meeting at Adobe where the client voiced frustration around one of their vendor’s tools.

Doing a good job of recruiting comes down to being crafty. People that exhibit this characteristic infuse their work with a bit of uncommon flair. Here are a few things you can do to remove stress, add value, and increase the likelihood of success:

Tip 2: Take Advantage of Social Media Recruiting

Social media advertisements can be a powerful way to recruit respondents for a project. It gives you the ability to pick your target audience by customizing the location, age, gender, language, interests, occupation, and much more, of your desired audience.

Tip 3: Use Video Over Photo

By selecting an engaging video as the main media on the ad, you will have a higher chance of getting people to click on your link, giving you a stronger chance to build your community of respondents.

Now, let’s look at the data. Below are the results from a Facebook recruit where we used an image and a video. As you can see below, the video performed nearly three times better than the photo.


Production Quality: Don’t stress about making a super professional video. These days, a selfie video that is clear and to the point is perfect. Below is an example we used in the below ad. {% video_player “embed_player” overrideable=False, type=’scriptV4′, hide_playlist=True, viral_sharing=False, embed_button=False, autoplay=False, hidden_controls=False, loop=False, muted=False, width=’640′, height=’360′, player_id=’18241965273′, style=” %}

This video took an additional hour to film, produce and post to Facebook and Instagram. The breakeven point was felt realized by the 3rd qualified participant and we were positive thereafter.

Tip 4: Have a Transparent Incentive and Call To Action (CTA)

Social posts are tricky. We have found clarity is the key to higher ad engagement.

Tip 5: Create a Clear Sample Frame

When you are thinking about who should complete your survey, you are defining your sample frame. This will most commonly be your customer persona.

Sample frames usually start with something like this …

“We want to talk to people who are in the U.S. that have used a bar of soap in the last month.”

Here is how it’ll end up …

Total N=20


  • Female: 50%
  • Male: 50%


  • 18-24: 50%
  • 25-34: 50%


  • Pacific Time zone: 25%
  • Mountain Time zone: 25%
  • Central Time zone: 25%
  • East coast Time zone: 25%

Often, you’ll spend a lot more time on this than you’d otherwise expect.

Tip 6: Use the Right Words

When crafting your questions and answers, use their language. Consider the last time you spoke with a teenager. You’ll hear terms like “flex,” and “DM,” vs. your mom “show off,” and “send a message.”

It is vital your screener is simple and relevant. Keep it conversational. None uses “survey speak,” in a conversation. I love this gem of an excerpt from the Parks & Rec sitcom where Amy Poehler is administering a survey.

Tip 7: Make it Scannable

It used to be the case that people read everything. These days, most people scan content. Your participant is no exception. To test a screener, I’ll have one of my teenage boys take it.


Question: Which of the below answer choices most accurately describe your current gender?

  • Male
  • Female
  • Other


Question: Gender. 

  • Male
  • Female
  • Other

You’ll get the same answer for both questions. However, by using the expanded text you add fatigue without value. In context of a screener, the participant already knows you are gathering profile data on them. There is no need to overcomplicate things.

Tip 8: Keep It Short

There should be absolutely no “nice to have,” questions in your screener. Keep it to the point and short.

This may create tension with the commissioner of your research. Obviously, they are the customer and we’ll do what they want. But push back … a little. What I want to say is something like,

“You know that purchase probability question? We are not using it as part of the screening criteria, what is our intent because we’ve found that adding excessive questions causes dropout and may impact how well people answer the rest of the questions.”

But, what I often say is,

“This screener is solid. Are we able to move any of the non-qualifier questions to the actual interview vs. including them in the screener? No stress either way. I just want to make sure we are on point and not having unnecessary dropouts.”

Tip 9: Include an Audition Question

In 2016 I did a survey wondering what sort of engagement I’d get if I included a video open end. It was eye-opening to say the least.

My video question was,

“For this project, we’ll be doing a real-time remote chat via video. To ensure there are no technical issues, please tell us about your day in a few sentences.”

This is what I learned:

1. Only 40% of the participants were willing to do the video

2. I knew in the first 5 seconds if I wanted to include them in the project or not

3. Not doing this for qual would have lost me the customer

4. The quality of the open-ended questions was higher than those not willing to give me a video

5. I had no bot farms from China leave a video

Tip 10: Double Opt-in

Assuming you are not taking the respondent immediately to the survey, you will need to communicate with them over time. This requires you to double opt-in your participants in order to ensure you are in complete compliance with governing privacy policy regulations.

Sadly, this will cause additional dropout between 10% and 30%.

Tip 11: Red Herrings

The term “red herring” according to Wikipedia is, “A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question. It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or audiences toward a false conclusion.”

Always include at least one in your survey. Here are a few of my favorite questions.

Open-Ended: What is your favorite color?

Single Select: What does 2 + 2 + 4 equal?


B. -1

C. 8

D. 3

E. None of the above

Tip 12: Get Permission for Email or SMS or Both

We often default to email as the preferred way to communicate with participants. Try sending an email to a 21-year-old student and see how responsive they are.

It is okay to get people’s phone numbers as long as you have their permission and they are aware of any fees associated with using SMS.

Tips for Recruiting for Real-Time Discussion

If you are recruiting people to an event such as a one-on-one interview, group discussion, usability lab, etc. here are a few additional considerations.

Tip 13: Welcome Message

After a user qualifies for your project, send a welcome email or text, informing them that they can receive incentives for participating in a study, as well as a calendar invite with the project details such as the date, time, duration and location.

Tip 14: Send 3 Reminders

Instead of making reminder calls to respondents, you can save a lot of time and headache if you utilize SMS to ensure they show up to your study. The best part about utilizing SMS as a main form of correspondence is that you can automate it, saving you up to eight hours per study.

We have found this sequencing to be ideal:

  • Use calendar items that contain pertinent information such as date, time, necessary prep, discussion location, etc.
  • Send an SMS message T-Minus three days, one day and 30 minutes.

Tip 15: Allow for Rescheduling

If you are doing a series of sessions and your participants can reschedule as their calendar comes into view, it is vital you give them an opportunity to either reschedule or cancel their attendance.

Tip 16: Automate

There are a number of tools you can use to automate this correspondence to participants, but I’m pretty partial to HubUx (full disclosure, I’m a little biased). HubUx is recruiting and scheduling software built specifically for market research facilities. Part of our scheduling tool includes the ability for participants to book themselves for your focus groups, interviews, etc. Once we get your participants on the calendar, we send multiple automated text messages to them leading up to the study to ensure they show up.

This method of sending text reminders has shown to yield the same show rate as manually calling respondents, but text messaging only takes 60 seconds to set up versus the hours you’ll spend calling participants. All in all, text messaging is the best channel to communicate with participants.

There are some other cool tools out there you can utilize to send automated SMS messages such as Avochado or EZTexting. But please keep in mind, these tools were not built for market research specifically and they don’t help with recruitment and scheduling of participants the way HubUx does. However, I wanted to make you aware of the tools you can use to only help out with sending text reminders in case that’s all you want.

Tip 17: Create a Recruiting Funnel for You and Your Client

We’ve all seen sales funnels. This is the same thing, just for recruiting respondents. Here is an example you can feel free to copy based on our social media recruiting:

Just like in sales, there isn’t a one size fits all recruiting funnel. But, just like sales, what isn’t measured can’t be managed.

Tip 18: Communicate Daily with Your Client

If you are not the end client, this is one of the most overlooked opportunities for researchers to build trust and help both clients and respondents feel at ease.

One of my favorite ones is to tell the client, “I’ll send you an email update on the status of your project at 9 a.m. PT daily.”

Then, the very next day I’ll follow up at 9 a.m. even if there isn’t anything to report.

The content of this needs to be scannable and brief. It should feel like a Tweet. Here is an example of a project that is in field:

Email subject: Project ###: Update

Email body:

Hope you are doing well! Our project is on target for full recruit on XX/XX:

Total qualified and agreed: 193

Total confirmed: 87

Maybes: 6

Declined: 8

Unconfirmed: 92

Next Steps: We’ll continue to reach out to the unconfirmed which, given our historical performance, should net an additional 10 confirmed, giving us 10 over recruits.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Imagine if this gem of an email appeared in your inbox every morning at the designated time.

Now that you know a little more about client management, you can leverage your own craftiness to reduce client stress and become their, “Easy Button.”


If you’d like to chat sometime about how HubUx can potentially automate the recruitment and scheduling of your participants or even if you want to just chat to talk shop, you can always book a time with the team here. And as always, If you’d like to get more market research content like this, be sure to subscribe to our email list. Thanks in advance!