How To Get Survey Participants

Getting survey participants is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Read our tips on how to get survey participants that count.


In the world of user testing, there's some debate as to how big your user research sample size should be. Some default to the widely respected advice of Jakob Nielsen – to stick with five respondents for a 'discount' usability study – but such a small number of participants can lead to inaccurate results.

Without a solid strategy for attracting respondents, however, you won't have much choice in the matter. Responding to user surveys takes time and effort; people lead busy lives, and they're not going to spend their time if they don't think the survey is worth their while.

So, how can you go about securing survey participants? Here we'll explore some tried and true methods, as well as common pitfalls to avoid.

UX Survey Participants – Before You Start Looking

The first step in any survey respondent search is to know exactly who you are looking for. Who is your target audience? How many people do you need? What are the criteria for selection? Knowing this information will give you a better chance of receiving useful and valid feedback.

Look for people in your target market

The purpose of UX surveys is to find out exactly how users interact with a product. According to Paul Maritz, CEO at Pivotal: “It’s about catching customers in the act, and providing highly relevant and highly contextual information.”

The only way to provide relevant and contextual information is to go straight to your target users. If you collect information about how teenagers use a sleeping device designed for 40 to 50-year-olds, for instance, the data won’t be very useful.

 UX surveys should target a specific population, and that population should be representative of your larger user base. So if you are designing a product for women, your survey should have more female respondents than males. If you are designing a learning platform for college students, source your user base from universities.

There are a few different ways to find your target market:

  1. Look at your customer data. This is probably the most accurate way to determine your target audience, as it’s based on real-world behavior. You can use this data to create user personas – fictional, generalized representations of your target users.
  2. Use publicly available data. If you don’t have any customer data, you can use demographics from the US Census Bureau or similar organizations to get an idea of your target audience.
  3. Conduct market research. This is a great way to get feedback about customer needs and wants. You can use surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other research methods to learn about your target market.

Large sample sizes are better

This may appear obvious, but larger sample size is generally better. The more pieces of information you collect, the more accurate your data will be, as you'll have a higher confidence interval.

Keep in mind, however, that incredibly large sample sizes have the disadvantage of being more expensive and time-consuming to collect. So, you need to strike a balance between the size of your target market and the number of participants you can realistically get.

Ideally, your sample size should be representative of your target market. If you’re targeting millennials, for example, your survey shouldn’t have more 40-year-olds than 20-year-olds.

Determine the criteria for selection

Right off the bat – before issuing any advertisements or doing any recruiting – you need to determine the criteria for selection. This will help you target the right people and save time in the recruitment process.

Some factors you may want to consider:

  • What gender and age group do you want in your survey?
  • What is the respondent’s level of education?
  • What is their income bracket?
  • Do they use the product/service you are designing for regularly?
  • Where do they live? (This may be important if you are designing a product for a specific region.)
  • If you cut out or include certain people, will the survey return statistically valid results for your specific purpose?

Create a recruitment plan

At this point, you'll have a fairly solid idea of who you're looking for. The next step is to create a recruitment plan – that is, a scalable strategy for finding and enticing people to participate in your survey.

There are a few key things to plan out:

  • What kind of advertisement will you use?
  • Where will you post the advertisement?
  • Who will you contact directly? (This could be friends, family, colleagues, etc.)
  • What is the incentive for participation? (This could be money, gift cards, products, etc.)

Above all else, make sure your advertisement is clear and concise. It should be easy for potential respondents to understand what you are looking for and what the incentive is.

Methods for Finding Your Ideal Survey Participants

Once you are clear on the target audience for your survey, the next step is finding participants to take it. This can be a daunting task, but there are a variety of ways to find the right respondents.

1. Use Your Existing Network

If you've got connections, why not make the most of them? Look at your professional web of connections to see if there are any colleagues, friends, or acquaintances who can advertise or distribute your survey to their networks.

However, keep in mind that your connections themselves may not be a good fit for your survey. They may have the characteristics you’re looking for, but there is always the risk of personal or industry biases when surveying people you know.

2. Use Social Media

Social media can be a powerful tool for recruiting survey participants. Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook offer a variety of ways to target potential respondents, such as by job title, company size, or geography.

3. Use Online Panels

Online panels are essentially online communities of people who have volunteered to participate in surveys and other research studies. They are a great resource for finding survey participants because you can target them by demographics, interests, and other factors.

These panels are typically composed of people who have volunteered to participate in online surveys and studies, thus giving you access to a large pool of potential respondents who are likely to be interested in your topic. You can either find an existing panel or build your own for a more tailored panel.

4. Use Recruitment Firms

If you need a larger sample size or want to target a specific demographic, using a recruitment firm can give you access to large databases of potential survey participants and help you find the right respondents for your study.

You can also use various advertising methods to get people interested in taking your survey. This can include online ads, print ads, or even word-of-mouth.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid During Research

Of course, user research is often a difficult and drawn-out process. There are a few common pitfalls that can occur during any stage of the research process.

  • Failing to Properly Define the Problem: This is one of the most common mistakes researchers make. Without a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, it will be difficult to find the right solution.
  • Focusing on the Wrong Data: Another common mistake is analyzing data that isn’t relevant to your problem. This can lead to incorrect conclusions and misguided solutions.
  • Underestimating the Time and Effort Involved: User research can be a time-consuming process, and it’s easy to underestimate the amount of effort that’s required. Make sure you allow enough time for each step of the process and be prepared to spend significant time on data analysis.
  • Failing to Communicate with Stakeholders: One of the most important aspects of user research is communicating with stakeholders. Make sure you keep them up to date on your progress and share your findings and recommendations with them.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you’ll be that much closer to achieving your user testing goals.

Conclusion

User research is one of the most valuable and worthwhile tools you can invest your time and energy into. Finding survey participants can be incredibly frustrating, however – especially when you haven’t got a plan for how to attract them. 

With the right tools and strategies, you can collect the perfect participant sample and gain highly useful insights into your target audience. Remember: your best bet is to test the demographics most likely to use your product when it comes out.

Happy surveying!

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