Tips for Recruiting (Representative) Participants

One of the hardest things about conducting usability testing of any level is finding representative and willing people to take part in your studies. Here’s a summary of some of my top tips!

Preparation is key

So, before you even begin sending out cute flyers and advertising on every platform imaginable, you should know WHO you want to take part.

  • Speak to stakeholders involved in the project, who do they want using the service?
  • Use discovery research you have done that identified user personas and your key audiences – these are the guys you want to be getting in touch with.
  • Don’t base any recruitment on assumptions, or your entire test study might give completely irrelevant results. You wouldn’t test an Over 50’s Insurance Plan App with a bunch of toddlers… so do your research! (it’s probably what you do best)
It’s important to pick the right people…

Outsource (if possible!)

Does this count as cheating? I don’t think so. This will save you time so you can work on the juicy bits of your testing (like buying cakes and refreshments…or formulating tasks etc.). Recruitment agencies spend all of their time doing this, so they know what they’re doing and can get quick results.

Screen everyone!

This is key to hitting the ‘representative’ part of your testing.

  • I’ve been using Microsoft Forms to make quick screening surveys that everyone can access with a link, but any simple survey tools such as SurveyMonkey or GoogleForms would also hit the mark
  • Ask some key demographic questions, but focus more on behaviours
  • Keep questions relevant and ask questions that would help filter out people who are less relevant to the study
  • Ask questions at the start that are essential to participants being selected e.g. if you wanted to test a coding website, it would be pretty essential that all the participants knew how to work the internet!
  • Send a screener to any external companies you use for recruiting – this helps them do their job properly, especially if the kind of group you are reaching are quite niche

Old fashioned flyers

If you’re not lucky enough to use an external agency, resort to the basics.

  • Have an email link/link to a screening survey on these
  • Make them eye-catching
  • Ideally, place them in a relevant place the people you want to recruit might go to. Your user personas might help with this! It’s also good if the places you put your flyers are traditional procrastination spots… Libraries, Cafes, Transport Stations. Somewhere with high footfall, but not full of extremely busy people who never look up from their devices!

Use your contacts

Send out adverts and online copies of your flyer to groups and people who might be able to circulate things further.

  • Think mailing lists and meet-up groups
  • Do some investigative research and find out what’s happening in your area – can you pop along and give a shout-out at the village cake festival to ask people to trial your new baking app?
Target those who may be interested

Take advantage of social media

Social Media is great for circulating things widely – you will have better reach but this may come at the cost of having less relevant partcipants, so use it wisely!

  • The importance of having a screening survey is key here so that you don’t get people in America wanting to participate in your in-house card sort in Australia
  • Use avenues that have a time limit e.g. Instagram Stories for people flicking through quickly, but also dedicate longer posts to give key info
  • Repeat your call to action again and again (and again)
  • Consider all different forms of social media – from LinkedIn to Snapchat

Make use of that incentive

I’m guessing you’re not an animal and thinking about testing without offering people some form of reward…so make use of this!

It’s a convincing reason to volunteer…
  • Think about the audience you’re trying to attract and tailor your incentive to them, then advertise this
  • Chance of winning or voucher ‘there and then’ both work well
  • If there’s something that is low cost but high value to potential users, this is great, too. So if you’re asking for feedback on a fast food app for a large corporate company, something like giving people their order for free is a quick and easy way to get people on-board to give some feedback

Split your participants

If you have an extremely varied user-base, consider holding multiple testing sessions that target each group.

So, if you were designing a school app for parents, teachers and students, it’s pretty unrealistic to get a truly representative sample if you choose 6-8 people for a usability test. What would be worthwhile here is to conduct 3 usability tests, where you get all 3 groups to perform the kinds of tasks they usually would separately. So, students might be worried about submitting homework, and different student ages and abilities might find this process easier/harder, so it would be important to get a representative STUDENT sample for the testing. Likewise, would a supply teacher access a class register the same as a teacher with a consistent class timetable? You could get much more meaningful results by splitting your user groups this way.

I hope some of these tips were useful! What are your favourite recruitment tips? Do you tend to take a DIY approach to recruitment, or use an agency to help you out? Let me know in the comments!

Useful Links:

Screener Surveys:

DIY Recruiting:

Managing a Recruiting Programme:

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