remote research participants

Recruiting participants, and recruiting the right participants, is among the most pervasive challenges in user research. Add in the remote aspect of research and your first thought might be to just avoid it altogether–but please don’t! Here at Tetra, we use a variety of sourcing methods to meet the unique and specific remote participant sourcing goals to effectively find the right people for both our research and our clients’ research.

We have outlined some of our essential practices that make research successful when it comes to sourcing remote participants.

Getting Started

For any research, regardless of in person or remote methods, defining who you need to recruit is the first, and arguably most important, step. If you don’t know who you need to talk to or study and don’t have a well defined target participant profile, you’ll get very off track before you even start. So please, make sure you define what that is based on the objectives and goals of the research study. 

Review your Methods & Tools

Now that you have your target participant profile clearly defined, think about the methods and tools you plan to use for your research study and ask yourself: will people in our target profile have access to what is needed to conduct the method of testing we have planned (e.g. computer or mobile device access, internet, time, etc.)?

If the answer is yes, you’re in great shape. If it’s not, consider how you need to adjust your plan or utilize additional resources to ensure your methods and tools are a fit logistically and realistically for your desired participants.

Evaluate your Sourcing Opportunities

One of the biggest benefits of remote research comes into play with sourcing opportunities for a hopefully obvious reason: your participants can be physically located anywhere in the world! Now, whether they should be based on your target participant profile is another thing, but the point is that you will most likely have access to a much larger overall participant pool than you would if you were restricted to a physical location for conducting your research. 

That advantage in mind, it’s important to consider where your target participants are most likely to exist in an accessible channel. Budget for sourcing definitely comes into play here, but below lists some great options to get started with.

  •       •  Social outlets (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)
    •     ◦   Take advantage of any existing following your organization has from a social media perspective, also free!
    •     ◦   Advertising options can help target profiles that are otherwise inaccessible to your needs (i.e. specific job types, industries, age ranges, etc.)
  •       •  Existing customer lists and sales leads
  •       •  Guerilla methods (more time consuming, but free!)
    •     ◦   Free online postings–Craigslist, online forums, community support networks and organizations
    •     ◦   Local and national businesses and organizations
    •     ◦   Professional network (colleagues, coworkers, professional communities, etc.)
    •     ◦    Friends and family members (only those who match your target profile!)


    Plan your Budget

    There are two primary areas to consider when planning your budget around remote participant sourcing: participant incentives and recruitment costs. 

    First, your budget for incentivizing participants is essential regardless of a remote format. However, an advantage of remote research is that the participant incentive is typically less than for in person research. Your ask of someone’s time and resources is much less than in person studies, and the incentive you offer can reflect that. Check out this great resource from Ethnio on calculating incentives across various research study variables for additional guidance.

    Second, take a minute to think about what, if anything, you might need to spend to get in front of participants. This task goes hand in hand with sourcing opportunities and where you are more likely to find your target participants.

    •       •  Do you have easy and/or free access to get in front of your target participants? If yes, then more than likely this will be an area where you can save some money. 
    •       •  Will it be more challenging to find your target participants from your sourcing opportunities? If yes, then you should expect to spend money on recruitment efforts.


    Confirm Interested Applicants Fit your Target Participant Profile

    Depending on how familiar you are with your target participants, finding the right source and recruitment budget can definitely take some experimentation. Don’t be afraid of a little trial and error here–it will only improve your recruitment efforts more and more over time! 

    Once you have a plan to get in front of your target participants, confirm that you have truly found them. This is where screener surveys are critical to ensuring you don’t waste any research efforts connecting with the wrong people. 

    Create a short survey that asks participants to confirm the details you need to know to ensure they truly are a fit for your target participant profile. This screener survey should be fairly easy to generate with a well defined target participant profile to reference.

    An extra measure that is absolutely more time consuming, but absolutely necessary to confirm you have found the right participants, is to include phone screens of seemingly eligible participants. More than likely you’ll want to avoid people who seek out surveys and research studies for a living and know how to mislead screener surveys. Adding the extra step and time for phone screens catches those people and gives you a preview into that participant and whether they are a good fit for your research. 

    Another benefit of a phone screen is you can use that opportunity to test out the required software and tools that you will need to complete an interview. Many times, remote sessions are derailed with technical difficulties, so you can help prevent this in advance.

    At this point, you should have a list of participants to select from and can move into the next phases of actually conducting research!

    In Conclusion

    Sourcing participants for any type of research is a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Creativity and resourcefulness are keys to ensuring you’re finding the right participants, and these strategic, adaptable efforts will allow you to do just that. 

    What do you think? Have you used any of these strategies or methods? What are we missing? We love to chat about all things research, so let us know!


Read our Definitive Guide to Remote Research