How To Find Participants For User Research: 13 Ways To Make It Happen

With a little planning and effort, you can find the right participants for your user research. Let's walk through 13 of the best ways to make it happen.


A person gazes into a high tech telescope standing in front of what appears to be a technical or engineering related object made from metal.

User research is undoubtedly one of the most valuable tools for any company looking to improve its product or service. After all, how can you hope to understand what your users want or need if you don't take the time to talk to them directly? 

The effort well and truly pays off; in fact, 70 percent of execs believe that the user and customer experience is a key competitive differentiator. Companies that truly understand their target user base – and iterate based on their expectations – are the ones that succeed.

But there's a significant challenge that comes with conducting user research: finding participants. Not only do you need to secure a pool of willing participants, but they also need to be representative of your target market; diverse in location, age, gender, interests, and so on; and of course, available when you need them. 

It's no small feat – but it is possible. With a little planning and effort, you can find the right participants for your user research. Let's walk through 13 of the best ways to make it happen.

How to Recruit from the General Public

Believe it or not, you don't need to fish in an executive pond to get good user research. In fact, certain research calls for a more general sample of the population. For example, if you're testing a new retail product, it wouldn't make sense to recruit only retail managers or other business professionals; you want average consumers who would be likely to purchase the product. 

Since the general public is your largest pool of potential recruits by far, there are many ways you can go about finding them. Below are a few of the most effective:

1. Advertise Online

If you don't have a high research budget, or you're looking for a lower-cost option, advertising online is a great solution. You can use Google or Facebook Ads to target specific demographics, interests, and even locations. For example, if you're looking for parents of small children in the United States, you could use Google's targeting options to show your ad only to people who meet those criteria.

This method also allows you to get very specific with your messaging; after all, when users are actively searching for something online, they're more likely to be receptive to your message if it's relevant to what they're looking for. 

Some of the best ways to use online advertising for research recruitment include:

  • Facebook Groups: There are millions of active Facebook groups with every conceivable interest, hobby, and demographic. Do a search for groups related to your target market, and then post about your research opportunity in the group (be sure to follow any rules the group has about self-promotion).
  • Online Forums: Similar to Facebook groups, you'll find forums for just about every topic under the sun. Use your search terms to find relevant forums, and then create a new thread or post about your research.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a more professional platform, making it ideal for recruiting business professionals or other specific target markets. You can create a sponsored post with your research opportunity, or use LinkedIn's advanced search options to find potential participants that match your criteria.

Never doubt the effectiveness of cold outreach, too; craft a personalized message and email it to your target market, or give them a call. You might be surprised how many people are willing to participate in research if you connect with them directly.

2. Recruit via User Panels

Exhausted all advertising avenues, and still no luck? Sometimes, it pays to recruit from an online panel of pre-listed research participants. These panels are made up of people who've already signed up to be part of research studies, which means they're more likely to be receptive to your request. 

Many online panel companies will allow you to specify the target market you're looking for, which makes finding participants a breeze. If you want to recruit millennials in the United States, for instance, an online panel company can provide a list of eligible participants that meet your criteria. 

Keep in mind that some of these panels will require you to pay a fee, but it's often worth the investment when you consider how much time and effort it would take to find participants on your own. 

At Respondent, we're passionate about finding the perfect participants for your research. We have a global network of vetted participants, and our team will work with you to find the best match for your study. Our platform also facilitates the exchange of incentives – it never hurts to sweeten the deal.

Try out our recruiting services today

3. Internal Recruitment

If you've attempted to find recruits through advertising and didn't get the pool you were looking for, you're almost certain to find willing participants through panels – but what if you're working with a smaller budget? Perhaps you are in the beginning stages of a bootstrapped prototype, or you've hit a snag in your recruiting efforts and need to get creative. 

One method that doesn't cost anything is internal recruitment, which means finding research participants among employees and other professional connections. It isn't a long-term solution; ideally, you'll be testing people who have no ties to your company and can give you unbiased feedback. 

That being said, if you're in a pinch, internal recruitment can be a helpful way to get the ball rolling. You can start by sending out an email to employees, asking if anyone would be interested in participating in user research for a new project. 

People are generally more than willing to help if you make things easy for them – and they may even know someone who would make a great participant, which brings us to our next method.

4. Leverage Connections

Got a team of proactive staff members, but don't want to recruit them for research? Ask them to help you find participants by leveraging their personal and professional connections. 

This is a great way to get the word out without putting anyone on the spot. You can send an email asking employees if they know anyone who might be interested in taking part in user research, and include a link to more information about the project. 

The benefit here is that you're essentially advertising for free; your employees have social leverage with their connections, which ensures a higher response rate than if you were to post a general ad on Craigslist, for example. 

Keep in mind that it is still best to recruit from a pool of totally objective, disconnected individuals – but if you're in a bind, leveraging your employees' networks can help you find the participants you need.

5. Look For Groups That Form Naturally

When it comes to user research, one size does not fit all; different projects will require different kinds of participants. In some cases, it can be helpful to look for groups that form naturally, rather than trying to recruit individuals one by one. 

For example, if you're working on a project that involves seniors, it may be helpful to look for retirement communities or other groups that cater to this demographic. These types of groups usually have some sort of centralized information system, which makes it easy to get in touch with a large number of potential participants at once. 

The key here is to think about the type of participant you need, and then look for groups that fit that description. Trying to recruit individuals one by one can be time-consuming and frustrating, so this is a great way to streamline the process.

6. Look For User Groups

If you're working on a project that requires specific user expertise, one of the best ways to find participants is to look for user groups. These are typically formal or informal groups of people who share a common interest, and they can be an excellent source of research participants. 

A few examples might be:

  • A Facebook group for new parents (ideal for testing products or services geared towards families with young children)
  • An online forum for small business owners (great for research related to entrepreneurship, marketing, etc.)
  • A meetup group for dog lovers (perfect for testing pet products or services)

The list goes on and on; think about the type of user you need, and then look for groups that fit that description. User groups are a great way to find people who are passionate and knowledgeable about a specific topic, which makes them ideal candidates for user research.

How to Recruit from Your Active Users

Sometimes, recruiting from the general public won't be your best bet. If you're working on a project for a specific company or organization, it may be more efficient to recruit from your active users. 

Active users are people who are already using your product or service; they're ideal candidates for user research because they're familiar with your brand and have some level of investment in your product. 

A common example is beta testing; when a company is developing a new product or a new iteration of an existing product, they'll often recruit their most active users to test it out. It's unhelpful to have people who are completely new to your product trying to give feedback on it – they aren't the target audience, and won't be affected by any changes you make. 

If you're working on a new product, here are a few ways to recruit your active users.

1. Leverage Customer Support

This strategy will mostly apply to established companies with a customer service team. When you're developing a new product or making changes to an existing one, your customer service team is a great point of contact for finding willing participants. 

As a team of people who are constantly in touch with your customers, your customer service reps have a unique access point for finding potential participants. Leverage this by asking your team to mention the research every time someone calls with a question; something like, "Before you go, how would you feel about participating in a short research study? It would be very helpful for us." 

Your customer service reps are already talking to people who are interested in your product, so this is a great way to find potential participants without having to do much extra work. What's more, your reps are solving issues for customers left, right, and center – so they'll feel more than happy to help out with your research in return. 

2. Offer a Valuable Incentive

When recruiting from the general public, an issue companies often face is incentivizing their research participation. How do you choose a reward that everyone will value, regardless of their background, personality, or preferences? 

With active users, you have a little more leeway; you can offer an incentive that's specific to your product, and that will be valuable to the people who are already using it. Let's look at a few examples. 

3. In-Game Codes or Rewards

Specific to game developers, this incentive encourages users to participate in exchange for a leg-up in the game. If you're working on a mobile game, for example, you could offer an in-game currency or bonus that would help the player progress. 

This incentive is twofold; not only does it encourage participation from your target audience, but it also gives you valuable feedback from people who are actually playing your game. You can use their feedback to improve the game itself, making it more enjoyable for everyone involved. 

4. Product Discounts or Credits

Working on a new product to add to your well-established line of goods? Your existing customer base will be eager to get their hands on the new product, so offer them a discount or credit in exchange for their feedback. 

Doing so will encourage active users to not only participate but follow through and purchase your product once it's released. They'll feel invested in the product and will be more likely to tell their friends and followers about it – which is great news for your marketing team. 

5. Special Editions

This is another strategy often seen in gaming research, but you'll also notice it with new technology, like phones or laptops, and even makeup or skincare (think PR packages) – anything, really, that has a fandom or cult following. 

Creating a special edition of your product, with exclusive content or added bonuses, is an excellent way to entice users to participate in research. It's also a great marketing tool; not only will it create buzz around your product, but you can also use the research itself as part of your marketing campaign. 

Simply offer your users the chance to get a special early-release version of the product, or include a bonus item that's only available to research participants. You could even take it a step further and make the special edition itself part of the research – for example, by crowdsourcing the design from your participants. 

However you incentivize your user research, make sure that the reward is valuable to your target audience. By offering something that's specific to your product and appeals to your users' interests, you'll not only encourage them to participate, but you'll also get feedback that's more accurate and helpful.

6. Intercept Users in Real-Time

Are you trying to collect feedback on an app or website update? This method is going to be incredibly helpful with access to the right tools. 

Here's how it works:

  • Using a tool like Ethnio or UserZoom, set up an on-site popup that asks browsing users to participate in your study. It might say something like "Have you got a moment to help improve our website? No effort required!"
  • The user agrees and then continues using the website however they would normally. 
  • You can either observe their interactions with the website live or record and view the session later. 

It's helpful to follow up with a survey for a bit more information and qualitative feedback, but users won't always be willing to give you their email address. That's okay! Just remember that this method works best as part of a bigger research plan since you're likely to only get a few participants this way.

7. Make the Most of Social Media

If you're lucky enough to have a solid following of users on your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platform, make the most of it by advertising your user research there. 

You'll be reaching out to people who are already interested in your product or service, and you can use social media's targeting options to make sure you're only reaching the right audience. For example, if you're looking for female users aged 18-24 who live in the United States, you can target your ads accordingly. 

When creating social media ads for user research, make sure they're short, sweet, and to the point. You want users to know exactly what they're getting into, and how long it will take – no one wants to click on an ad only to find out they've been duped into a 2-hour survey. 

How To Recruit for B2B User Research

Business-To-Business companies are a little different when it comes to recruiting participants for user research, purely because you're not targeting consumers – you're targeting other businesses. Likely, you'll want to recruit from a pool of professionals with specific knowledge for your user research. 

There are a few ways to go about this. You can work with a recruiting agency that specializes in finding business professionals, you can post on job boards or online communities where these professionals congregate, or you can reach out to your current network of contacts to see if they have any recommendations. 

It's also important to keep in mind that you may need to offer an incentive for businesses to participate in your user research. Time is money, after all, and businesses are unlikely to want to spare their employees for an hour or two if they're not being compensated in some way. 

Some incentives you can offer include: 

  • A discount on your new product or service (works particularly well for SaaS companies) 
  • A local restaurant or bar gift card 
  • A charitable donation in the business' name

Business professionals are busy people – but if you demonstrate that you're valuing their time and their input, you'll be more likely to get the participation you need for your user research.

Why Can't I Find Users to Participate in My Research?

If you've exhausted all your options and the right participants just aren't coming through for you, don't give up hope just yet. The likely scenario is that you need to make an adjustment to one of a few things: 

  • Your user persona. Are you being too specific with who you're targeting? If you're only looking for users that match your persona to a T, you may be making it too difficult on yourself. Consider broadening your target audience to include people similar to your persona, but not identical. 
  • Your research goals. What are you hoping to learn from conducting user research? Make sure your research goals are specific and achievable – if they're not, it will be difficult to determine whether or not you've been successful. 
  • Your research methods. There are a variety of ways to conduct user research, from surveys to interviews to focus groups. If you're not getting the results you want with one method, try another – you may find that a different method is more effective for your needs. 

User research is an essential part of any product development process, but it can be difficult to find participants that are both willing and able to provide valuable insights. 

Keep in mind that incentives are often the difference between success and failure; if you're not offering something of value in return for participation, businesses and consumers alike are unlikely to want to take part. 

Utilize social media, job boards, and your current network of contacts to cast a wide net – the more people you reach out to, the better your chances of finding participants that are right for your user research.

Skip the Queue with Respondent

Here at Respondent.io, we're proud to offer companies fast, affordable access to their ideal participants. With 1.5 million vetted participants ready and waiting for recruitment, our platform will match you with the right sample in no time – and all you have to do is take your pick. 

Respondent is trusted and used by some of the world's leading companies; Microsoft, IBM, Dropbox, Atlassian, Oracle, and the like have all utilized our services to quickly and easily connect with the people they need for high-quality B2B research. 

Looking for participants that match your target audience doesn't have to be a headache-inducing process. With Respondent, you can focus on what's important – conducting high-quality user research that will help improve your product.

Try us out today, and experience the benefits of a thorough recruiting platform. 

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