Create Better Content: 6 Ways to Recruit User Research Participants
Katie McKenna Mar 28 2018
Let’s start with an assumption: As a brilliant digital marketer, you know that understanding your prospects and customers intimately is the cornerstone for creating great content and a successful marketing program. But how can you understand them without asking them the right questions?
When you think of formal “user research,” words that come to mind might be “expensive, “time suck,” or “overwhelming.” If you’ve been at a bigger company, they might have had the luxury of an outside user research firm to handle things such as recruiting, session facilitation, or a card-sort. Today, we’re talking about the basics.
Just because you don’t have access to a user research firm who can do the recruiting for you, doesn’t mean you should be too intimidated or worried about finding participants yourself.
In this blog post, we’ll go through 6 methods for recruiting participants yourself, so you don’t spend your time and money trying to reach the wrong people.
And if you need a little more convincing on why user research is critical to creating great user experience which absolutely includes content, check out “UX Without User Research Is Not UX” from the Nielsen Norman group.
With around 234 million unique users and thousands of communities or “subreddits,” Reddit can be an excellent place to connect with people over a wide range of niche topics.
During a recent user research project, I needed to interview sustainability managers. Not surprisingly, I didn’t know anyone with this job title in my immediate circle of friends or colleagues. I asked the client if they could connect us with some of their contacts, but with a brand new product, all their prospects were very early in the sales process. They understandably weren’t ready to risk botching the sale.
Skipping user research with this target audience wasn’t a choice; we needed to find out what types of content they consume, what pain points they have at work, and what social media sites they frequent. I knew I had to get scrappy, fast.
I found a sustainability subreddit and posted the following message:
We received a couple of comments and a DM from this post. Although that might not sound like a lot, the DM turned into an insightful 30-minute phone interview. The person I interviewed was also interested in the research we were doing and when asked, sent an email out to his network asking if anyone else was interested in participating in our research.
Ask participants for referrals
This might sound incredibly obvious, but you’d be shocked how many companies forget to do it. Do not be afraid to ask the people you interviewed if they would be willing to help you find more participants.
If you’d prefer to be as unobtrusive as possible during the in-person session, I recommend always asking at the end of the interview whether or not it’s okay to reach out to them again with any additional questions. In your follow-up email, you can ask if there is anyone else in their network who might want to participate.
If you’re worried about the participant sending you an unqualified referral, remember that you should create screener questions to send to every potential participant before you interview them. Whether you decide to interview them is ultimately up to you.
In this case, after I sent this email the participant connected me with another sustainability manager who gave me another highly informational interview. So far, and without much effort, I was 2/2.
Organic Social Media
If you need to interview people with a particular job title who live in certain areas, try using LinkedIn. You’ll need to use their InMail feature, which will allow you to message people who aren’t in your network. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Inmail and then pay $29.99 a month if you need it for longer. The one downside is that (at the time of this writing) you only receive 5 InMail credits per month.
Once you’ve thoroughly combed through user profiles and decided that someone’s a good match, you can send them a message explaining the study and why you want to learn from them.
It’s important to tell them how interviewing them is going to help you or your organization. People like feeling useful.
Another reason why I like using LinkedIn for recruitment is that it shows mutual connections. If you find someone who looks like a good candidate and they’re connected to someone you know, you can and should mention that in your message. You can also reach out to the person you know and ask if they can help you start the conversation.
Pro-Tip: Because other people’s time is precious, I always offer some kind of incentive to thank them for their time. Depending on where you work, this could be a discount on your services, a gift card to your store, or an Amazon gift card.
Send out an email or Slack message to your company and see if they know anyone who fits the criteria for your study. If your company is large and diverse enough, you might be pleasantly surprised at how many people they can connect you with. And telling people in your company that you’re doing user research gives you an opportunity to educate other people in your office about the importance and impact of what you’re doing.
Paid Social Media
If you can’t find enough people through organic social, try putting a small ad spend behind your posts to boost their reach. On Facebook, you can use both demographic and psychographic targeting to find people who fit the criteria for your study.
For a recent site launch project, I needed to find people between the ages of 26-65 who watched documentaries on at least a monthly basis.
We segmented the ads into 4 different sets based on interest (science, history, general, and documentaries), so we could tailor our questions to each group. Then we ran the ads for seven days with a $150-$200 budget to reach our target number of participants.
Each ad drove traffic to a screener I created in Google Forms. Based on the data, I was able to determine who was qualified to move on to the round of interviews.
I haven’t yet experimented with recruiting participants via LinkedIn or Twitter ads, but if you try it, let me know how it goes!
If the scrappy or DIY approaches above seem like too much work or you still need more participants to round out your research, I recommend using Respondent. Respondent is a web-based platform that not only helps you find qualified participants, it schedules interviews and allows you to pay them all in one place.
You can also choose whether you want to conduct your research remotely or in-person, how much of an incentive you’re willing to give, and how much time you need to interview respondents.
Once you pick all your targeting criteria and write your screener questions, respondents will flood your inbox within the Respondent interface and you can decide whether or not you want to schedule an interview with them. There’s a per-person fee for each interview, but it’s relatively small. To give you a general idea, I recently conducted a 30-minute phone interview with a participant, paid them a $50.00 incentive and the recruitment fee was $17.50 (it’s always 35% of the incentive).
If you take nothing else away from this article…
Just because you don’t have a fancy recruitment agency or a mountain of cash, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do user research. There is so much incredible knowledge to gain from talking to actual users about what they want and need, and we hope you’ll explore some of these approaches. Let us know which ones work for you or if you have any other recruitment tips!
Director of Content
Katie leads the Content Strategy team at Portent. She graduated with a Bachelor in Journalism from Indiana University. She loves helping brands tell stories through the content they produce and creating positive user experiences. Read More