Qualitative Research Recruiting


What is recruiting?

Recruiting is one of the most important, and surprisingly difficult steps in conducting most qualitative (and much quantitative) market research. It is a challenging and time consuming task that requires one to identify, contact and attract the right people to take part in a study. Without the cooperation of those who are truly representative of the target market, the results of a research project will have less or no value.

How do you do recruiting?

Not all recruiting is alike.

Depending on how many recruits are desired, how quickly they need to be found, and size of budget, there are different approaches to consider. Following are some common ones.

  • Emails can be sent to a purchased list, e.g. subscribers to a publication or newsletter, attendees of a trade show, or members of a professional organization. In all such cases, individuals already have certain known and shared interests or profiles.
    • A subset of a large list may be used to conduct a pretest of an online or phone survey, or it may be split up and used for more than a single project without the need to contact any individual more than once.
  • Online panels already have selected research participants who have agreed to provide information at specified intervals. Many market research firms utilize online panels to save time in recruiting for their clients’ projects since such panels typically have huge numbers of members who have already been screened on basic demographics or psychographics.
    • Companies who create online panels often act as an intermediary and send out a survey on your behalf but do not disclose the email or phone number of the panelist to you. This makes panels less useful for qualitative work.
  • Social media
    • For B2B recruiting purposes, LinkedIn has become an extremely useful tool. Potential participants can be contacted after using parametric tools to hone in on members who meet certainscreening criteria.
    • Similarly, FaceBook can be used for finding consumers whose profiles appear to match the desired criteria for a study.
  • Advertisingin a variety of media from print to onlinemay be effective. By placing an ad in a particular newspaper, magazine, or website it is possible to solicit participation in certain types of market research studies, e.g. people with specific occupations, illnesses, or life situations may learn about the need for research subjects this way.
  • Search engine marketing (e.g., Google AdWords) provides a unique way to recruit people based on keywords they search for. For example,
    • Individuals who search for dermatologists could be prime candidates for a study of body lotions, creams, medications, cancer detection or similar topics related to skin care or problems.
    • Likewise, people who enter a stock symbol rather than the name of a stock or company in a search are more likely to be knowledgeable and interested in financial services and investment opportunities.
  • Referrals, or Word of Mouth (WOM) may be used to build a pool of participants. Of course,since there is the likelihood that friends, colleagues and family may have much in common, this can be either a positive or a negative depending upon the research objectives. If the goal is to find people who have a shared background or set of “likes”, then this can be a good source of participants. If, on the other hand, the research seeks a more diverse population, this might be a less effective approach.

When to use each approach.

The time and cost will vary in each case.

  • For research that involves the broadest market (think of fast food, coffee, cold medicine, phone service), a very large panel is likely to have members that are representative, so both the time and cost of recruiting will be lower.
  • However, if a project requires recruitment from a low incidence (rare) population, more effort and cost will be devoted to find enough participants.

Concluding tips and thoughts.

  • Careful screening questions can improve the odds that a person who is invited is truly “qualified” and is not a “professional”.
  • Adequatecompensation (e.g. cash, gifts) is a strong motivator to ensure cooperation –whether online, on the phone or in person — but it adds to the expense of the project.
    • Providing participants with some form of feedback such as a summary report of findings can also be a good incentive.
  • For qualitative research (focus groups, one-on-ones or IDIs) it is important to be very clear in instructing and reminding recruits about the date, time and place that they must be. Even a confirmation letter, email or phone call does not ensure compliance with a person’s assurance that they will participate. If work, family or other social obligations arise, a recruit may not contact the research company or show up at all. For this reason, many research studies will over-recruit, expecting a certain absenteeism rate, much as when airlines overbook their flights.
  • Recruiting for online panels creates a different set of potential problems. When people are told that they can earn points, gifts or cash, there might be a temptation to join for that,and no other reason. There may be little to no incentive to be honest, thoughtful or careful in answering any questions. Ideally, the subject matter, or product/service being studied will be salient and relevant to the participant. Knowing their answers to a set of profile questions can help to mitigate this issue.
  • In all cases, the best way to go about recruiting is to use a third party. This can be the same company that is conducting the study if you are outsourcing it, or it can be a list broker or panel provider that you contact yourself.