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5 Biggest Problems with Recruiting for Online Focus Groups and How to Avoid Them

5 Biggest Problems with Recruiting for Online Focus Groups and How to Avoid Them

Recruitment for online qualitative research projects is getting more and more complicated. While many of us hoped that online would make it easier, new challenges arose, such as cheaters trying to get the money without contributing to the research, technology issues, and many more. Thankfully, there are certain strategies you can follow to make sure you avoid these problems in the future! Let's dive straight into them.

Problem: "I am unsure where to source a good online sample." 

Solution: Choose your sample sources wisely!

Do it yourself (DIY) sample panels are fast, efficient, and sometimes great options for quick-turn projects. The major drawback of many of these panels is that they are rifled with cheaters! Groups of people running bots sharing information will all work towards finding their way through a screener. The lure of $100-$150 for an incentive attracts some shady characters. When using DIY panels, you will want to deploy a sophisticated screening process to be certain your participants are who they say they are. 

Online advertising provides another option for finding participants on platforms like Facebook or Instagram. These options provide excellent targeting from a geographical standpoint. Once again, you will need to keep an eye out for cheaters since they often run elaborate schemes where they share open links to recruiting screening surveys and share the methods for qualifying once someone gets through. For example, once they qualify for the study, they will share the link and tell everyone on social media that to be qualified, you have to say you are a "user of the X this product, male, and live in X location." Many targeting options like political affiliations or race/ethnicity that used to be available in online advertising platforms are no longer available when setting up your ad, so, depending on the study requirements, this may or may not work for you.  

Customer lists can range from excellent to very poor. The benefit of a customer list is that it is unlikely to include cheaters, as the initial source is an actual customer of the brand. The problem may be that the quality will depend on whether the list is cleaned from people that have moved or are disengaged. 

On average, we typically see response rates that range from 5% to 10%, depending on the topic and incentive. In rare situations, we have seen up to a 25% response rate on topics that are very relevant can be achieved. Try not to overuse survey screening questions with customer groups. Ideally, you can make much of the selection of sample based on known demographics within your customer population using data from your CRM or accounting software (e.g. location, purchasing history). As best you can, try not to disqualify people within the screening survey since it may negatively impact the customer's perception of the brand. The response rate will typically increase if the client sends the invite to the study directly to their customers, leveraging the brand loyalty of the customers. Some studies require a "blind" methodology meaning that a neutral third party is conducting the research and the brand is not revealed to the participants. In this case, the 3rd party will need to send recruitment invitations, and you can expect lower response rates. Ultimately, you will need enough samples to fulfill your study based on screening criteria, cooperation rates and show rates. Work with a provider that can help you estimate this. 

Problem: "I don't know how to decrease drop-out rates and improve qualification rates during the screening process."

Solution: Keep your recruit screening surveys short and to the point. 

Ten questions is the new 20 questions. Participants are giving up, and response rates are going down because our industry struggles with getting to the point. Participants will lose faith in the industry if they are screened out after 15 minutes of their time. Ask 1 or 2 important questions, add some demographics, and move on.   

Check out our free Recruitment Survey Template that'll help you recruit the right participants! 

Remove the requirement to have "mixed" demographics, especially with low incidence studies. From a bias standpoint, it is understandable that you may want to have a diverse split. For instance, males versus females can make sense. However, mixing multiple categories in an 8-person group does not make sense from a representativeness standpoint. We can't expect a single person of Asian descent to somehow be representative of their race or culture. Remember, mixed requirements eventually become quotas, sometimes finding the last of your sample statistically impossible. Also, screening based on race has become a practice often avoided. It is more reasonable to screen for Race/Ethnicity when the study is about Race or Ethnicity. Rather, review online screening videos and choose participants who you feel best represent the mix of people you would like.  

Problem: "Too many cheaters make their way into my focus groups!" 

Solution: Employ sophisticated measures to identify and remove cheaters.

Nothing can ruin a project faster than someone who is not qualified for the study getting into your group. Cheaters might be the single greatest elephant in the room in our industry. While it might go unnoticed in quantitative studies, it rears its ugly head in qual. Cheaters in qual can hurt you in two ways. First, if they get into your group and are exposed to your client, they compromise the project and possibly your relationship with your client. Second, they often just choose not to show up since they realize they will have to talk intelligently about the given topic on video. Cheaters can take a project from great to poor in a heartbeat. 

The best practice is to screen participants at a number of different levels depending on how reliable the sample source is. Here are some suggestions to remove cheaters prior to your focus group:

  1. First, IP address location will need to match the country.
  2. Second, the area code phone number will need to match city and state.
  3. Next, participants will need to answer a text from the number they provided in the screener. Calling phone numbers is getting more and more challenging. People rarely pick up the phone, especially when it comes from an unknown number and area code.
  4. The next step is the single greatest deterrent to cheaters. Have them record a short video of themselves answering a rescreening question for verification. At this point, many cheaters recognize they have been caught.

Those who pass this test are articulate, qualified and technically capable of participating. We have also found by taking people through this process, those who remain are very likely to attend. 

Problem: "My participants or clients have technical issues the day of the focus group." 

Solution: Test systems in advance and hire technical support.

If you are using any type of special software for your exercise, test the software on the participants' system in advance. Firewalls, VPNs, different browsers and operating systems can sometimes prevent people from accessing the software. Testing in advance not only allows for time to resolve issues but also prevents having to deal with them when your clients are logged into the back room.

Hire a dedicated concierge or technical host responsible for managing any of these problems. Be sure the service you choose offers this.  

Problem: "My participants don't show up the day of the groups." 

Solution: Pay well and immediately after the group.

Like the cost of everything else in this world, the standard cost for incentives is going up. Expect to pay $50 or more per half hour of activity. It is important that you pay people well for their time. The industry must also move away with "You will receive your incentive in 6-8 weeks". If at all possible within hours or even minutes after completing.  New online payment systems make this not only possible but most preferred. 

By an advance payment system, you also save hours of responding to participants asking, "where is my incentive?"

Even if you do all these things, expect a few no-shows and over recruit. It is a new world out there. Participants like ourselves have much to navigate, and attending a focus group may not be the highest priority at the time.  

If you would like any help deploying any or all of these methods to improve your online recruiting, please feel free to contact itracks!