Recruitment is a critical component of any research project. After all, you won’t make it far in understanding customers if you don’t get a chance to learn directly from them. Sometimes research recruitment feels easier said than done, though.

You need to find and manage people for your project, and they need to be the right people. Which customers should you talk to? How do you find them? And then how do you convince them to help your cause?

We’ve put together a step-by-step process to make your next recruiting session a breeze.

Determine which customer research candidates you need

It’s hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for, so your first recruitment step is choosing the audience. By getting clear on who specifically you want to talk to, you can pick the best place to look for them and separate them from the crowd.

There are three main research candidate categories for you to choose from—past, present, or prospective users.

Past users

Yes, you can learn from your ghosts of users past. Past customers are any person that used to use your product, and now they don’t. This group could range from free trial users who never converted to once-engaged customers who outgrew you and anything in between.  

Recruit past customers when you want to learn:

  • Why users never converted to a paid account
  • Why users quit using your product
  • If new features are enough to lure customers back

Present users

Your UX research will focus on current customers most of the time since retaining and growing customers is essential. Nicole Wright, a Senior UX Researcher at HoneyBook, shared that:

For feature-related studies, I’ll recruit people from our user base so we can really understand the issues they have and why they’re asking for a new feature. Maybe they asked for a product change but there’s actually a deeper issue they’re trying to solve. I can talk to them about their process, and we can find solutions they might not have thought of.

-Nicole Wright

Recruit present customers when you want to learn:

  • Why a feature request keeps coming up
  • What's causing frustrations in the app
  • How to improve a workflow

Prospective users

The final user group to recruit for research are prospective customers. These people could either be in your target audience or in a segment you want to grow into.

Recruit prospective customers when you want to learn:

  • How the market perceives the usability of your product
  • What first impressions are of your product
  • What stands out and falls short for a new segment of users

Choose a recruitment channel

Once you’ve decided who to talk to, you need to figure out where to find them. We like to think of this step as “fishing where the fish are.” Of course, every recruitment channel comes with pros and cons, so you need to assess them on a project-by-project basis.

Owned channels

An owned channel is one where you already have contact with or a following of users. These recruitment channels include your email list, customer database, website, social media accounts, company-sponsored communities and forums, and in-app popups.

Pros of owned channel recruitment:

  • You’re leveraging channels your company already uses for communication, so you don’t need to change your workflow
  • The audiences already have familiarity with your company, so they may be more likely to pay attention
  • If you’re using your email list or in-app popups, you can segment who receives the message

Cons of owned channel recruitment:

  • Your outreach is limited to people who already follow you or are customers
  • You only have a finite list of customers, you don’t want to burn out their attention

Your owned channels have people who already know (and potentially use) your product, which means it’s a solid choice for finding current and prospective customers.  Nick Disabato, a design consultant, talked to Aazar Shad of Growth Marketing Stories about running UX research for Thigh Society. When Nick wanted to understand how customers were using the products, he decided to talk to current customers:

I emailed everybody who had placed an order within the past 180 days and asked them to fill out a questionnaire that included a screener. Screeners should be short, like “what demographics are you,” “how many orders have you placed” (so you get a mix of users). Then I went in, chose a handful, and sent Calendly links.

-Nick Disabato

Earned channels

If you don’t have enough people in your audience to recruit from or the right mix of people, you can turn to earned channels. These recruitment routes are sites or communities that your brand doesn’t personally manage. Examples include any niche community across Slack, Facebook, Reddit, Google Groups, Discord Servers, or listings on Craigslist.

Earned channel research recruitment on Reddit
Online groups and forums for specific topics, interests, or demographics are useful places to advertise your research opportunities. Image via Reddit.

Pros of earned channel recruitment:

  • You open your research up to a larger audience than you might have on your own channels
  • The variety of communities available means you can explore new audience segments or markets

Cons of earned channel recruitment:

  • If you’re not regularly posting in these communities already, a call for research participants could feel promotional. One way to offset this is to use a tool like Great Question to create research recruitment pages that make it clear you’re not after a sale.
  • Recruiting from communities could be against the rules, so you need to check with moderators

Recruiting through earned channels makes the most sense when you want to reach prospective customers since it would be hard to wade through the crowds to find past or current users.

Direct outbound

Rather than putting out a general call to participate in research, you can send one-on-one messages if you have specific users in mind. Direct outbound research recruitment involves hand-selecting ideal participants and then messaging them directly through email, LinkedIn, or social media.

Pros of direct outbound recruitment:

  • If you have a very specific subsegment you want to interview you can narrow your focus to just those individuals from the start
  • Limiting your outreach prevents an influx of participants you need to screen

Cons of direct outbound recruitment:

  • Finding, selecting, and messaging participants is time-consuming
  • If you want to quantify your research, you may not be able to reach statistically significant numbers with such a small audience

While you could use direct outbound messages to reach out to prospective users, it’s a tall task. It’s best to use this message to reach out to specific past or present customers since you have some list to start your search.

Third-party recruitment

Your final research recruitment method option is using a third-party recruitment service. Tools like Respondent and TestingTime connect you with potential respondents based on your criteria. ou may hire independent recruiters, too.

Third-party recruiting via Respondent
Recruitment websites match your company with research participants for a service fee, which you’ll pay on top of incentive costs. Image via Respondent.

Pros of third-party recruitment:

  • Handing the work to someone else frees up your team’s time
  • People that you contact through third-party services are already interested in participating in research

Cons of third-party recruitment:

  • While third-party recruiting saves time, it costs more money than other recruitment channels
  • Finding your ideal customers could be tough since recruitment services have broad audiences

You should reserve using third-party recruitment services for reaching out to prospective customers or people in your general target audience. Finding past or current customers in these services could prove challenging.


Create a great research recruitment page

Your final step in doing your best research recruitment to date is to create the perfect recruitment page. A descriptive and easy-to-use page to direct participants to makes it easy for both you and participants. Users benefit from a quick and seamless experience, and you enjoy more people saying “yes” to getting involved.

Great Question makes recruitment pages easy to assemble, and we’re going to break down each element your page needs to include.

Great Question research recruitment landing page template
Great Question recruitment pages put essential info front and center for participants.


Make it clear it isn't a sales pitch

If you want to increase the chances that someone will agree to be a part of your research, make sure they know it isn’t a sales pitch in disguise. Consider putting your main question as a headline, and then letting people know you’re running a research study. You can also tell participants what you want to learn so they understand your intentions.

Great Question describes their research study purpose
Clarifying that you’re running a research project and what you want to learn lets you avoid coming off as a marketing pitch.


Be transparent with requirements and goals

Letting people know what tasks they need to complete and how long it will take could make getting a “yes” more likely. Plus, it sets realistic expectations, so participants don’t end up in a more intensive project than expected.

Research session details from Great Question
Let participants know how long research will take and what tools or websites they'll need to access. 

Screen participants to make selections easier

A screener survey helps you narrow your focus to participants that meet your criteria. Your recruitment page can include a note that you'll ask participants a few questions before considering them for the study. We like to keep screener surveys to 3-5 questions tops.

Screener survey question example
Asking questions about participants helps you find your target audience. 

Let participants know what’s in it for them

If you’re asking people to share their time and experiences, you usually need to incentivize their participation. You can either give details about the incentive on your recruitment page or wait until someone has made it through your screener survey. You can also let people know what type of changes you plan to make based on your learnings.

Great Question organizes your customer research recruitment

The smoother your research recruitment process is, the more often you can conduct UX research and make research-driven decisions. Luckily, Great Question makes it easy to conduct continuous research.

Great Question can give you high-quality recruitment landing pages with customizable branding to share with participants. Plus, Great Question makes it easy to set up research studies and share what you’ve learned with your team and company.


If you want to organize your research process, get started with Great Question today.

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