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How to resourcefully recruit and incentivize UX research

People and dog sitting in a circle
Some focus group participants are more food-motivated than others. Illustration by Melissa Shavlik.

User research is an important part of product development. However, corporate research is burdened with resource constraints. How does one conduct user research in a short amount of time, possibly on a tight budget? Turns out, you can still deliver sound qualitative and mixed-methods insights.

Depending on the research design, participants can be sourced different ways. If you have the budget, you can use a service to distribute unmoderated usability exercises. These types of services find users based on your target personas from a pool of available testers around the world. If you want to interview people that work at your company (for enterprise-facing tools) you can use a utility that randomly samples names in the company directory. Or, perhaps, you may want to take a more targeted approach, like sample from a list of employees who went a specific conference, or a list of employees that viewed a specific product demo. At that point, then you can screen this list of names and start setting up appointments.

So now that we figured out how to engage participants, how do we incentivize participation? For external, consumer-facing products you can raffle Amazon gift cards. You can also ‘virtually’ buy participants a cup of coffee (email a Starbucks redemption code). Say you’re putting on a company-wide event, and you want insight into what a successful event looks like. Is it good swag? Is it quality key-notes? Is it convenience? To find out, you can conduct a lunch-hour focus group. Serve food and listen to typical event pain points and wish lists. The noon time-slot will boost the attendance of otherwise unavailable or uninterested parties. (Beware of food allergies and accommodate different dietary needs.)

If your research audience is internal and you want another way to incentivize, tell participants that they get a copy of the final research-read out. In organizations attempting to de-silo, this information share is important and interesting to the teams involved. Distributing the read-out to interested parties keeps you honest as a researcher. Radical transparency about methods confers credibility.

As you can see, there are challenges to recruiting and incentivize participants. However, constraints can result in creative solutions. I think the hard part about corporate research is striving for academic integrity, at the pace of business. However, I’m hopeful that the more our tools and process evolve, and the more realistic we are about putting theory into practice — the more we can deliver quality insights into human behavior.

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