Recruiting participants for research can be tricky to navigate, especially when you throw in incentives. You might find yourself asking questions like: How much should I pay participants? Will I get high-value participants within my budget? Should I incentivize with cash, gift cards, or something else? 

Creating an incentives strategy for research participants may feel daunting, but with the right advice and tools, you can strike a balance between recruiting participants who provide valuable insights without breaking the bank. 

We spoke with Nick Baum, the CEO of Tremendous, a leading rewards and payout platform used by researchers globally, to help answer some burning questions. He shared his expertise about when it makes sense to offer research incentives and how to calculate the perfect amount, along with some other best practices. Let’s begin.

Incentives for research participants

Why incentivize user research participants?

As someone who does research, you understand the crucial role that participants play in shaping products and services. Offering incentives isn't just best practice but a key strategy for ensuring engagement, reliability, and equity.

Incentives act as motivators. By offering tangible rewards, you not only enhance the likelihood of active participation, reducing the chances of no-shows and ensuring a reliable flow of data, but also demonstrate a commitment to valuing participants' time and insights. 

Ultimately, incentivizing participants serves as a mutually beneficial practice, recognizing the invaluable role they play in advancing knowledge and contributing to the success of research.

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When is it good to use incentives (and when is it not)?

According to Nick, the golden rule is to always compensate research participants.

“First, it's just the right thing to do. Someone is giving you their time, attention, and insights, and you should compensate them for their efforts,” he shares.

“Incentivizing research makes things easier on your team. A reasonable financial incentive significantly improves response rates.”

Beyond ethical considerations, it’s also about efficiency. Nick sheds light on the pragmatic benefits of, “incentivizing research also makes things easier on your team. A reasonable financial incentive significantly improves response rates.”

Nick goes on to mention one study that found incentives can boost response rates by a notable 19%.

Along with improved response rates, Nick finds that incentives also “increase participant retention and response quality. People who are being fairly compensated for their time are more likely to stick with your study through completion, and they're more likely to give you high-quality responses to your questions."

It’s clear that given the choice, providing incentives to participants not only aligns with ethical responsibility but also enhances the practical aspects of the research experience.

How do you calculate the best incentive amount for user research?

Incentives for research participants

When it comes to figuring out the ideal incentive amount, Nick reminds us that it's far from a one-size-fits-all situation. 

"It fluctuates a lot depending on the type of study, the demographic you're researching, the length of your study, and a bunch of other factors. There isn't a set amount that's appropriate for everyone or all types of research," he emphasizes. 

There are a few ways to go about calculating an incentive amount, though. Consider the following factors to make sure compensation is both fair and effective.

Study length

Longer studies may require higher incentives to maintain participant engagement and motivation.

Study type

Different studies demand varying levels of participant involvement, for example a survey versus a user interview. The complexity of tasks and the nature of the study can influence the perceived value of participants' contributions.

Research topic

The sensitivity or complexity of the research topic can impact the incentive amount. Participants may require higher compensation for engaging in discussions or activities related to more personal or challenging subjects.

Participant demographics

Understanding the demographics of the target participants is essential. Compensation may need to be adjusted based on factors such as age, profession, or geographic location to ensure it aligns with participants' expectations and local standards.

In Lyssna, you can tailor incentives for user interviews when recruiting from your own network. This allows you to make individualized offers.

Expertise required

If the research requires specialized knowledge or skills from participants, the incentive should reflect the level of expertise needed.

Task complexity

The difficulty and complexity of the tasks you’re asking participants to perform should be considered. More demanding tasks may warrant higher incentives.

Competitive landscape

Be aware of existing compensation norms within the field to make sure that your incentive offerings are competitive and attractive to potential participants.

Economic conditions

In international research, understanding the economic conditions of different regions is crucial. Adjusting incentives based on local standards and cost of living helps ensure fairness.

Use a research incentives calculator

Another option for calculating incentive amounts is to use the research incentive calculator from Tremendous. By recognizing the common struggle researchers face in working out appropriate incentives, Tremendous took the initiative to bridge this gap. 

Incentives for research participants

Nick shares, "We built a research incentive calculator that determines exactly how much you should pay participants based on several factors, including study length, study type, what you'll be discussing, and participant demographic information." 

What sets their calculator apart, as Nick points out, is its foundation in experimental data, which helps to makes sure that participants are fairly compensated for their contributions. 

Embedded video

This webinar we hosted with Tremendous goes into more detail on how to calculate research incentives.

Research incentivization best practices 

Making sure participants feel valued and motivated is a bit of an art, so here are some best practices to factor in when incentivizing.

How do you calculate the best incentive amount?

Fair compensation 

Make sure that incentives align with the time and effort participants are investing in the research, reflecting fair and equitable compensation.

"Offering an inappropriate or inflated incentive amount, depending on the type of study you're running, can inadvertently exert undue influence and promote bias,” shares Nick. 

He continues with an example. “If you're offering an unusually high amount for participation in a certain study, you may attract participants who don't quite fit the demographic you're looking for, or perhaps wouldn't ordinarily be comfortable participating in the kind of research you're conducting. But since you're offering such a high amount to participate, they may be willing to bypass certain barriers to participation to get the incentive.” 

That's why calculating the appropriate amount is so important. It ensures people are fairly compensated for their time, but also that no one is compromising themselves or your study just for the payout.”

Transparent communication 

Clearly communicate the incentive structure from the outset, detailing how and when participants will receive compensation. By informing participants about the incentive they’ll receive, you not only establish trust but also give them a full understanding of how the compensation process works. 

Factor in demographics

Understand the demographics of your participants, adjusting incentives to be culturally and economically appropriate for diverse groups. Nick adds that, “In terms of incentivizing international research, it's really important to be familiar with conversion rates. $50 may be worth a lot more or a lot less in a certain country, so it's worthwhile to do some research to ensure the incentive is appropriate." 

Prompt delivery 

Aim to deliver incentives promptly after each research session to enhance the participant’s experience and demonstrate commitment.

Personalized acknowledgment

This isn’t just a checkbox; it's about genuine appreciation and human connection.

Make sure you express gratitude individually, personalizing thank-you messages and acknowledging specific contributions to foster a positive relationship.

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Exploring incentive options for research participants

Calculating research incentives involves thinking through a few key factors. It's not just about transactional exchanges, it's about building relationships, fostering trust, and recognizing the invaluable role participants play in the research journey. 

By embracing research incentives, you can unlock a wealth of insights and propel your projects forward.

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