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Participant recruitment: 4 tips to build and manage a user panel

By Maria Santos

Digital Marketing Manager

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A month later, we’re still excited about what went down at User Research London 2018. Not only did we get to attend the most interesting talks on the first day, but we also took the stage to host our own workshop on user recruitment and communication techniques. The feedback received was so positive that we have decided to write some top tips on the blog, so today we focus on how to build and manage a user panel if you are considering building your user panel to support your research strategy.

Optimal Workshop’s user researcher Ania Mastalerz believes that “one thing is inevitable in user research –  at some point you’re going to have to find some people to take part in it. Finding them isn’t always easy.” – she writes in her article ‘DIY recruiting: how to find participants for your research’. And according to Emma Howell and James Lang’s book ‘Researching UX: user research’, “recruitment is the number one cause of headaches in research projects.”

From feedback we’ve obtained, we know businesses are looking for better ways to engage their user base. This can complement external recruitment done by a partner, such as People for Research.

If you have tried recruiting participants, you know user recruitment is complex and time-consuming. At People for Research, we have a dedicated team whose full-time job is to grow and manage our user panel (one of the UK’s largest active databases), whom we reach out to on a daily basis as a first point of contact for most recruitment projects. But how do we grow this pool of participants? How do we get them to be so engaged with research?

1. Set up your platform or system

Whether you work in-house as a user researcher/UX designer or at an agency for multiple clients, and whether your user panel is composed of your current users or a random pool of people, the first step to build a sustainable panel is to structure the data.

If you have a big budget, you can build a simple database with a sign-up form that allows the participants to join your user panel. If you don’t have a budget that allows you to build your own database, you can create a basic sign-up form on Mailchimp and use an encrypted spreadsheet to keep track of your users’ data.

According to user experience architect Anirban Basu Mallik, your in-house user panel should include:

• Customers who are end users and who use the product frequently;
• Customers who are end users and who don’t use the product frequently;
• Customers who are purchase decision-makers;
• Important customers from companies who bring in a lot of revenue;
• Customers who can be considered promoters, who speak positively about the product on social media, for example;
• Customers who are neutral regarding the product;
• Customers who can be considered detractors;
• Customers who have joined recently;
• Non-customers who use products created by competitors.

Of course, this is hard work, hence why some companies will work alongside a recruitment partner to find people who are “cold” to their brand.

Remember: one of the most important things when growing your panel is to keep track – either using an automated system or manually via a spreadsheet – of new sign-ups, unsubscribes, updates to data, etc. to make sure that you remain GDPR-compliant (General Data Protection Regulation).

2. Different ways to grow your user panel

In her article, Ania suggests that in-house researchers and designers can use their company’s customer support team and pop-up messages on their website to engage new participants.

At People for Research, we invest a lot of time and resources on multiple platforms, including social media, to grow our database. We use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to grow our user panel and to do what we call ‘free find’, which means finding participants outside our database to take part in our sessions.

When it comes to social media, we use both free posts and paid advertising with specific targeting – the good news is that you can advertise on Facebook or Instagram, for example, with as little as £5 a day. Keep an eye on the results, as it’s essential to know what works for you and what doesn’t so you can adjust your efforts in the long term.

Also, don’t forget to ask your current users (and even your team!) for referrals and to spread the word amongst family and friends. Growing your panel means regularly being able to capture fresh points of view from new users with diverse backgrounds and demographic profiles.

3. Identify your challenges and plan your approach

Now that your user panel is set and growing, it’s time to recruit from it. Every time you start working on a project that requires a new group of users, it’s essential to follow a couple of steps to make sure your recruitment is user-centred:

Step 1: Make sure you have a complete recruitment brief with all the relevant information that defines who you are recruiting. This will help to protect you against misrecruits and drop-outs, the two most common pain points in recruitment.

Step 2: Use your brief to create a robust screening document – according to People for Research’s Business Development Director Jess Lewes, this document will allow you to identify the right users, prepare the participants for the session and get informed consent.

4. Availability, ethics and empathy

Users will quickly and easily lose interest in your project if you’re not available to engage with them and answer their questions or are unable to effectively communicate with them.

Besides emails and texts, at People for Research, we also reach out to our participants on WhatsApp. Last year, we set up a user panel on WhatsApp to engage with people who don’t pay attention to emails – our WhatsApp Broadcast has turned out to be quite a successful tool in terms of conversion. So much so that we have used it to invite users to take part in research about sensitive topics.

The secret to keeping your users engaged is to show you care about them: pick the right platforms to engage with the participants, use the right language to boost response, mirror the way the participants communicate with you and be ethical in your approach.

A summary of our top tips when communicating with your user panel:

Be aware of your audience and their individual needs

Focus on the positives of the research and how their feedback can make a difference

Prepare the participants ahead of the research

Follow up with each participant afterwards and consider your engagement strategy

If you require support recruiting from a panel you have created, take a look at this blog and get in touch with People for Research about how to handle this.

More blogs?
User recruitment: a workshop at URL 2018


If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or info@peopleforresearch.co.uk.

About the author: Maria Santos is the Digital Marketing Manager at People for Research. You can find her on the People for Research’s Facebook or Twitter accounts, regularly engaging with potential participants, market research experts and the UX community.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.

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