Figuring out how to recruit participants for user research can feel like solving a complex puzzle. It’s no wonder, when you consider all the factors at play. You’ve got to pinpoint your target audience, track down participants who fit the bill (which can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack), and do it all within a tight timeframe. And let’s not forget the challenge of convincing these potential participants to take part.
There are also scheduling conflicts, no-shows, geographical limitations, and time zones to consider. It's no surprise the process can feel daunting.
Fear not! In this article, we explore strategies to help you overcome these challenges and successfully recruit participants for your UX research. Let’s dive in.
8 considerations for understanding your target audience
1. Consider your research goals and methods
Finding the right participants for your user research starts with understanding your research goals. Take a moment to revisit what insights you’re seeking to gain from your study. This will help you identify the specific audience that aligns with your research objectives.
Consider the characteristics, behaviors, or experiences relevant to your study. If you're testing a new mobile app feature, for example, you’ll want participants who are tech-savvy. On the other hand, if you’re exploring the shopping habits of millennials, your focus should be on recruiting participants from that specific age group.
Think also about the specific research methodology you’ll be using and how it relates to your audience. Different methodologies may require participants with different backgrounds or expertise.
For example, say you’re conducting remote user interviews to gather insights about the onboarding flow for a new productivity app aimed at freelancers and remote workers. By considering your research methodology (remote user interviews) and aligning it with your target audience (freelancers, digital nomads, individuals who work remotely on a regular basis), you can focus on recruiting participants from those specific groups.
2. Determine how many participants you’ll need
Figuring out the number of participants you need for your study will help you gauge the scale of your recruitment efforts and ensure you have enough participants to gather meaningful insights.
How many participants should you recruit? You probably don’t want to hear the response “it depends,” but … it depends. The nature of your study and research objectives will influence how many people you need, as well as whether you’re conducting qualitative or quantitative research.
Qualitative studies typically require fewer participants, but it’s important to ensure they meet the specific demographic and behavioral criteria relevant to your study. The Nielsen Norman Group is often referenced here, and suggests that testing with five users can be enough to uncover almost as many usability issues as you’d find with a larger group of test participants.
If you need statistically significant results for data analysis, you’ll need a larger sample size. Define the group you want to study, whether it’s a broad (e.g. smartphone users in the United States) or a more specific subset (e.g. smartphone users in California aged 20–30 who are employed full-time). For quantitative studies, we recommend testing with around 20–30 users to achieve statistically significant results, but you might need to increase this if you’re running a survey.
3. Decide on the scope of your research
To find the ideal participants for your research, it’s important to figure out the scope of your study. Pinpoint the exact problem you’re trying to solve and decide which user demographics you want to dive into to explore that problem. This clarity will help you narrow down the participant requirements and find the ideal fit for your study.
Let's say you’re looking to improve the user experience of a mobile banking app. You want to recruit participants who are regular users of the app and represent a diverse range of demographics.
To determine the scope of your research, you might specify that you're focusing on the app's functionality related to transferring funds between accounts, accessing transaction history, and setting up recurring payments. You’re particularly interested in understanding how different age groups (such as millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers) interact with these features and any pain points they encounter.
By clearly defining the scope of your research, you can now target your participant recruitment efforts specifically on existing app users who fit these criteria. This way, you ensure that the participants you bring on board are relevant to your study and can provide valuable insights into the user experience of your target audience.
4. Analyze existing user data
Existing data could include demographic information, user behavior patterns, feedback from sales and customer support channels, and customer reviews. By analyzing this data, you can shed light on your users’ preferences, behaviors, and needs.
Start by delving into the demographic information you have available. Look at age, gender, location, and any other relevant data points that paint a picture of who your users are. This can help you understand the diversity within your user base and identify specific segments to focus on during participant recruitment.
Next, take a deep dive into user behavior patterns. Explore how users interact with your product or service, what features they engage with the most, and any usage patterns that emerge. This can uncover insights into what aspects of the user experience resonate strongly with your audience and highlight areas that need improvement.
Analyze the comments, suggestions, and pain points shared with customer support or via reviews. This qualitative data can provide rich context and uncover hidden gems about experiences and frustrations.
As you sift through this data, keep an eye out for highly engaged user segments or those with unique needs. These segments could be potential goldmines for recruiting participants who are passionate about your product or have specific insights to offer.
5. Consider task complexity and tooling
What tasks or activities are you asking your participants to perform? If your study involves intricate tasks or specialized skills, you’ll want to recruit participants who have the necessary expertise. For example, asking participants to create an investment portfolio using your financial management software will require an understanding of financial concepts and investment strategies, so you’ll want to recruit participants with this expertise in financial management.
Think also about the tools or technologies participants will need to engage with. This could include specific devices, software, or platforms. Make sure your participants have access to and are comfortable using these tools.
6. Check the competition
It’s time to do some sleuthing. By studying your competitors, you can gain valuable knowledge about their target audience and discover opportunities for participant recruitment.
Observe how your competition interacts with their users and the strategies they employ to capture their attention. Explore their websites, social media channels, and any available market research. Pay attention to the specific user segments they cater to and the unique value they offer.
As you investigate, keep an eye out for any underserved niches in the market. These are areas where your competition might be missing out or not fully meeting the needs of certain user groups. Identifying these gaps can open up possibilities for your recruitment efforts.
By understanding your competition and their target audience, you can gain insights into what makes their users tick. This knowledge empowers you to explore fresh avenues and find unique angles for your recruitment. Perhaps there’s a group of users who are dissatisfied with your competition’s product or a niche audience with unmet needs that you can tap into.
7. Segment your target audience
By segmenting your target audience, you can hone in on specific groups based on factors like age, gender, location, occupation, lifestyle, or expertise level. This segmentation allows you to tailor your research approach and unlock valuable insights from each group.
Let’s imagine you’re working on a fitness app and want to segment your target audience. You could group users into the following:
Fitness enthusiasts: This group is made up of people who are highly dedicated to fitness and prioritize their physical well-being. They may include gym-goers, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts who are always looking for new ways to challenge themselves and improve their performance. Understanding this segment helps you tailor your research to their specific needs, such as exploring advanced workout features, tracking progress, and integrating with wearable devices.
Beginners and casual exercisers: This segment is made up of those who are new to fitness or have a more relaxed approach to exercise. They might be looking for gentle workout routines, guidance on getting started, or motivation to stay consistent. By focusing on this segment, you can gain insights into their barriers to entry, preferred workouts, and the types of features that would encourage them to engage with the app regularly.
Busy professionals: This group includes those with hectic schedules, such as working professionals or parents juggling multiple responsibilities. They value efficiency and convenience when it comes to fitness. Understanding their needs can help you design time-efficient workouts, offer flexible scheduling options, and provide motivation tailored to their lifestyles.
Seniors or individuals with specific health conditions: This segment is focused on individuals who may have unique requirements due to age or specific health conditions. They may be seeking low-impact exercises, modifications, or personalized guidance. By addressing their specific needs, you can create an inclusive and supportive experience that caters to their fitness goals.
By segmenting your target audience in this way, you can delve deeper into the distinct preferences, challenges, and motivations of each group. This allows you to create a more personalized and effective user experience that resonates with your users and helps them achieve their fitness goals.
8. Tap into your existing user base
By reaching out to your existing user base, you can gather valuable information about their needs, preferences, and pain points. This could include setting up interviews or sending out surveys to your users. Ask them about their experiences with your product or service, what they love about it, and areas where they think it could be improved. Their feedback will help you validate and refine your understanding of your target audience.
But don't stop there! Continuous product discovery is the name of the game. As you gather new insights, reassess your definition of your target audience. Are there any user groups you may have overlooked? Are there emerging trends or evolving preferences you need to consider?
By connecting with your user community, you’ll stay in tune with their ever-changing needs. As you learn more, you’ll be able to fine-tune your research goals and capture the most relevant user groups. Remember, your users are your biggest allies in creating a product or service that truly meets their needs.
So, get ready to chat with your users, listen attentively, and uncover the gems of wisdom they have to share. It’s through this ongoing dialogue that you’ll continue to refine your understanding of your target audience and deliver a user experience that keeps them delighted and engaged.
Strategies for recruiting user research participants from your target audience
Recruiting the right participants for user research is crucial to gather valuable insights and ensure the success of your studies. Now that you’ve got a good idea of who your target audience is, let’s explore effective strategies for screening and recruiting your user research participants.
Whether you’re recruiting your own customers or reaching out to non-customers, these methods will help you build a strong participant pool and gain valuable insights to inform your product development process.
Screening user research participants
The goal of screener surveys is to find the right people who fit your study and filter out those who don’t.
Screener surveys help to ensure that participants align with your research objectives and have the desired characteristics you’re looking for. This way, you can select participants who can provide valuable insights.
In unmoderated research, screeners are often integrated into platforms or survey tools used for data collection. They help to filter out participants who don’t meet your criteria, ensuring the data you collect is relevant to your research goals.
But if you’re recruiting your own participants, this article from Michele Ronsen covers everything you need to know about how to design and write effective screener surveys, and includes a handy downloadable checklist. It’s definitely worth checking out if you need to create a screener for your next study.
Recruiting your own customers
There are a number of benefits to recruiting your own customers for UX research. The two main use cases include:
Updating an existing product: If you’re enhancing your product with new features or improvements, your existing customers are the perfect bunch to tap into. They know your product inside out, and their insights can be helpful when it comes to understanding how these changes will impact their experience. Who better to give you feedback than the folks who are already using and loving your product?
Testing with product experts: Sometimes, your study requires in-depth experience with your product. This could be when you’re testing advanced features that only your power users know how to wield. By recruiting participants from your customer base, you ensure that you’re getting feedback from those who have the know-how.
So, how do you go about recruiting from your existing user base? Well, there are a few nifty strategies you can employ.
Reach out via email
Send a friendly message to your customers to let them know about the exciting research opportunity. Make it personal, show them that you value their input, and explain how their participation will help shape the future of your product. It's all about making them feel like VIPs!
Post a request on your website and social media channels
Spread the word! Share a post on your website or fire up your social media accounts to let your customers know about the research opportunity. Be clear, concise, and create a buzz that makes them curious to get involved. You’ll be surprised how many enthusiastic participants you’ll find among your follower base.
Enlist the help of sales and CX teams
Your account managers and customer support teams are the bridge between you and your customers. They have direct contact with your user base, so why not leverage that relationship? Encourage them to reach out to customers personally, explaining the research opportunity and how their input matters. It adds a special touch and shows that you genuinely value their voices.
A word of caution, though – don’t bombard your customers with endless requests. Be mindful of their time and make sure you’re not overwhelming them. And hey, a little incentive never hurts! Consider offering enticing rewards like gift cards, account credits or discounts, or even exclusive early access to new features (more on this below). It helps to sweeten the deal and shows your appreciation.
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Recruiting non-customers for your UX research can open up a new realm of possibilities. Here are some reasons why it’s worth considering:
Fresh perspectives: Non-customers bring a fresh set of eyes and unique viewpoints to the table. They can offer valuable insights that you might not get from your existing customer base. By tapping into their perspectives, you can gain a broader understanding of user needs and preferences.
Testing with the unfamiliar: When you’re developing new features or products, it’s crucial to gather feedback from people who are unfamiliar with your offering. Non-customers can provide unbiased feedback, helping you identify areas for improvement and uncover new opportunities for innovation.
Exploring new customer groups: Recruiting non-customers allows you to delve into untapped customer segments. You can gain valuable insights into the needs, preferences, and behaviors of these potential users. This information can guide product development and marketing strategies and help you target new markets effectively.
Understanding your competitors’ customers: By recruiting non-customers, you can gain insights into your competitors’ customer base. Understanding their needs, pain points, and preferences can give you a competitive edge. It allows you to identify gaps in the market and develop solutions that surpass your competitors' offerings.
To ensure a comprehensive understanding of your target audience, it’s beneficial to test with both customers and non-customers – to read about how this works in practice, check out our YNAB case study. By gathering diverse insights, you can adapt your research methods and tailor your UX design decisions to meet the needs of various user groups. Remember, the more perspectives you incorporate, the more robust and user-centered your product will be.
When recruiting non-customers, it’s crucial to clearly communicate the purpose and benefits of participating in your research. Emphasize that their feedback will contribute to improving user experiences and shaping future product developments. Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for non-customers can foster engagement and valuable insights.
Here are some effective strategies to help you reach and engage with participants who aren’t currently using your product or service.
Online communities and forums
Explore online communities, forums, and social media platforms relevant to your target audience. Look for groups or discussions where your potential non-customers might gather. Engage with these communities, share your research objectives, and invite participants to take part in your study (so long as it adheres to community guidelines!).
User research panels
User research panels, like the one we offer at Lyssna, connect researchers with participants from diverse backgrounds. These panels often have a pool of individuals who have been screened and are willing to participate in research studies, making the recruitment process a lot easier. By leveraging these platforms, you can recruit non-customers who have expressed interest in sharing their opinions and experiences.
Use targeted online advertising to reach specific demographics or user groups that align with your research objectives. Platforms like Google Ads and social media advertising allow you to define your audience based on criteria such as age, location, interests, and more. By reaching out to non-customers in this way, you can increase the chances of recruiting participants outside your existing user base.
Encourage your existing customers to refer non-customers to participate in research. Offer incentives or rewards for successful referrals. Word-of-mouth can be a powerful tool in expanding your participant pool, as people are more likely to trust recommendations from their peers.
Incentivizing and compensating user research participants
Incentivizing and compensating your user research participants can go a long way in making sure they feel appreciated and motivated. Here’s why it’s important to offer incentives:
Boost response rates: By showing participants that you value their time and feedback, incentives increase the likelihood of them actively participating in your research.
Reduce no-shows: Incentives act as a motivator for participants to honor their commitment and show up for research sessions. This helps minimize the number of no-shows and ensures reliable data collection.
Build trust: Offering incentives demonstrates your commitment to your participants and acknowledges their contributions. It creates a positive and collaborative research environment that fosters trust and engagement.
Ensure equity: Compensating your participants for their time and input ensures fairness and equity in your research process. It recognizes the value of their contributions and establishes a mutually beneficial relationship.
When deciding on what incentives to offer, consider the tasks and time involved in your study, the participation format (in-person or remote), and the expertise required. Be transparent with your participants about how and when incentives will be distributed, setting clear expectations from the beginning. And aim to deliver the incentive promptly after each session to create a positive experience and show your commitment to fulfilling your part of the agreement.
To ensure smooth payment, collect necessary details like email addresses or mailing addresses in advance, and securely store participant information. If you’re looking for suggestions on how to administer and track participant compensation, the ReOps Tools Census includes information on popular tools.
If your research includes international participants, explore options for handling payments or incentives for different countries, such as using platforms like Tremendous for multi-country gift card support.
Finally, express gratitude to each participant individually. Personalize your thank-you messages and acknowledge their specific contributions. If applicable, offer them opportunities to provide feedback or participate in future studies, nurturing a long-term relationship and demonstrating your commitment to ongoing user involvement.
Let’s explore some popular incentive options.
Cash compensation provides flexibility for participants to use the reward as they see fit. But keep in mind any tax implications and consider whether there may be restrictions for certain individuals, such as government employees.
Offering gift cards from retailers or online platforms allows participants to choose items or services that align with their preferences. It’s a versatile and widely appreciated incentive.
Allowing participants to select a charity for a donation in their name adds a meaningful and socially conscious element to the incentive.
Account credits or discounts
If you have budget limitations, providing participants with account credits or discounts for your product or service can still be enticing and valuable.
Who doesn’t love some cool swag?! Branded merchandise like t-shirts, stickers, socks, or gadgets creates a sense of belonging and serves as a tangible reminder of participation.
Early access to features
Giving participants exclusive access to upcoming features or beta versions can be particularly attractive to early adopters or product enthusiasts.
How Lyssna can help with recruiting user research participants
At Lyssna, we have a couple of ways to help streamline your participant recruitment process.
The first way is recruiting participants for remote unmoderated studies using our research panel. When you build a test in Lyssna, you can choose to self-recruit or recruit via the panel. Recruiting via the panel gives you access to over 530,000 participants from more than 100 countries, with over 35 demographic attributes to choose from. Panelists are screened and we have a dedicated team to review your data and make sure it meets our rigid standards (although if you’re not satisfied with a response, we’ll replace it). Responses are typically provided within a few hours, although you’ll often see them within just a few minutes.
If you’re curious to see how much it costs to recruit remote unmoderated participants for your study, check out our research panel calculator.
Another way we can help simplify your recruitment process is with our built-in Interviews feature. We designed this feature to make it easy to organize your research all in one place, and reduce the need to jump between various tools. You can set up your research criteria with screeners, automatically qualify or disqualify participants (or choose to handpick them), and manage and track bookings and incentives all in one place. Plus, we take care of the reminders for you.
Recruiting user research participants can be a complex process, but with the effective strategies outlined in this article, and Lyssna in your toolbox, you can navigate the challenges and find the right participants for your study.
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Frequently asked questions about recruiting user research participants
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