Recruiting Quality Participants for Online Qualitative Research


Recruitment in online communities is a fundamental part of any successful study. Recruitment for online research is typically carried out in three main ways:

1. From online panels;
2. Via ad hoc recruitment (more traditional methods such as recruiters in the field, personally, telephone, live or web intercept, or social media communications); and
3. From client supplied lists.

To get the best results for your research and to ensure high client and participant satisfaction, you don’t want to recruit just anyone – you should consider the following ways to ensure your participants are the best fit for your project.

All participants should have proper technology and equipment. Participants also must be able to access the technology needed for the study (e.g. computer or mobile device with adequate internet connections). They may seem like the perfect participant, but if they can’t properly share their opinions with you, then your research with them can’t continue! You can test this in advance of the group by having them join you for a short chat in advance of the actual group or interview. As a bonus, the advance “tech check” can also serve to test the next aspect, which is to…

Consider participant personalities. When finding the right participants for online qualitative research, the requirements of the screener, as well as the personalities of the participants must be considered. As with traditional methods, participation within digital qualitative sessions is much deeper, more in-depth and more effective if people are articulate, expressive and comfortable sharing in group settings.

Over-recruit. If a project has quotas to recruit within specific population segments and lower incidence/hard to reach respondent audience, recruiting participants can be a challenge. It’s recommended to over-recruit by 15% to 30% to make sure that there are enough participants and to account for the possibility of dropouts or people with technology problems on the day of the group. If you’re using software designed for research for your groups or interviews, you should be able to have backup participants wait in the “waiting room,” and only admit them to the discussion if needed.

Keep participants engaged. For research taking place over several days, like with an online discussion board, there is the additional challenge to keep participants engaged and active throughout the study. The key to keeping quality respondents is setting expectations upfront in terms of how often they will be needed and what activities are expected of them. Additional instructions and support should be allotted to those groups of people, who may not be as comfortable within the online space, to keep them engaged. Engagement can be boosted through effective moderation techniques, incentives and leaderboards within the software, and showing posts by user. Finally, incentives are key in online research. Determining the “ask” of the participants and then applying an appropriate incentive – for the time invested and the participant type – can keep participants active.

Have any questions or want to get started on your online qualitative research project?  Contact us!

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