How to Recruit Participants for a Study in 8 Steps

finding the right people

One of the first steps in a market research study is often the most crucial: participant recruitment. Think of it as assembling the dream team for your project.

In this guide, we're breaking down the process into eight straightforward steps to recruiting participants for a study, plus common ways to find people.

From defining your target audience to sending out friendly reminders, we share everything you need to know to find, schedule, and retain market research participants. 

Need help with market research recruiting? Contact our qualitative recruitment agency today. Simply fill out a form on our website or email [email protected] for more information. 

Importance of Participant Recruitment in Research

Well-planned and executed recruitment methods contribute to the success of the study as a whole.

Here are several key reasons why participant recruitment is important in research:

  • Representativeness: The sample of participants should be representative of the population or subgroup the study intends to make decisions about. If the sample is not representative, it becomes challenging to generalize the findings to a broader population. This is particularly important for studies aiming to draw conclusions about specific demographics or populations.

  • Ethical considerations: Ethical guidelines and standards require researchers to obtain informed consent from participants. This means that participants should be fully aware of the nature of the study, their involvement, and any potential risks or benefits. The best recruitment methods ensure that potential participants are well-informed.

  • Enhancing data quality: Recruiting participants who are motivated and committed to the study can lead to higher data quality. Engaged participants are more likely to provide accurate and complete responses, reducing measurement error.

Ways to Recruit Participants for a Study

Recruiting participants for a market research study requires a strategic approach. No two studies are the same, so it is important to choose the best method for recruiting your specific audience.

Here are several effective methods for participant recruitment:

1. Panel Vendors

Panel vendors are companies that specialize in providing access to a pre-screened and segmented group of potential research participants.

They typically maintain large databases of potential participants who have expressed interest in participating in various types of research studies, including surveys, focus groups, and product testing.

These panels can be valuable resources when recruiting participants for market research studies, as they offer access to a diverse range of individuals with specific demographic, psychographic, or behavioral characteristics.

Additionally, panel vendors often use various methods to recruit and verify panel members, ensuring that they meet specific criteria set by researchers.

2. Social Media

This is a method our qualitative recruitment agency uses often.

To effectively use social media for market research participant recruitment, begin by identifying platforms where your target demographic is likely to be active, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.

Each advertising platform includes targeting capabilities where you can narrow the sample pool even further to find your exact criteria.

From there you'll want to craft compelling organic posts or advertisements that succinctly outline the purpose of the research. For the call to action, we recommend linking to a screener survey or a form for people to sign up.

For a more in-depth explanation, I recommend watching the video below.

3. Email and Newsletters

By leveraging existing networks and outreach strategies, organizations can reach a targeted audience effectively.

We recommend crafting a clear, compelling email or newsletter that outlines the purpose, benefits, and process of participating in the research study.

And don't forget to include a call-to-action that guides recipients on how to express interest or sign up.

4. Customer Lists

Utilizing customer lists for participant recruitment in market research can be highly effective, especially if the study is related to products, services, or experiences that your existing customer base has interacted with.

Start by segmenting your customer list based on relevant demographics, purchasing behavior, or other characteristics that are pertinent to your research.

Then, craft a personalized message that highlights the benefits of participating and makes it clear how they can get involved.

Keep in mind that while customer lists can be a valuable source of potential participants, it's important to balance this approach with efforts to also include perspectives from individuals who may not yet be customers, to ensure a diverse range of insights. 

Steps to Recruiting Participants for a Study

Step #1: Determine Your Target Participant

The number one mistake I see organizations make is selecting their ideal participant and immediately reaching out to panel vendors to get costs. 

The problem is, that these companies use a cost sheet based on the assumed incidence rate and length of participant time commitment and send a fixed cost for sign-off. 

However, when the recruit actually begins, it becomes abundantly clear that the audience is more challenging than anticipated, or not someone the vendor can source through their in-house panel. 

While it may take longer, I recommend finding a market research company like Drive Research, which has a custom bidding process. Our recruitment team looks at each requested audience and not only checks feasibility but creates a unique plan to reach and recruit them. 

Step #2: Kickoff

A kickoff meeting is a must-have step when recruiting participants for a market research study because it ensures that the project gets off on the right foot. 

Even a quick meeting to confirm all information and discuss the next steps can be extremely valuable. 

A participant recruitment kickoff meeting should cover the following:

  • Introductions: Not only to meet each person on the research and client team but also to understand what the role of each person will be throughout the research. 

  • Recruitment criteria: Confirm all recruitment criteria, and then discuss any other wants or “nice to haves.” It gives you the opportunity to add value for your client that may not have been covered in the proposal. 

  • Methodology: Once you know who will be researched, you’ll need to know how and where. Confirm the research methodology and location. If a platform, you’ll need to know how participants will access it (registration, device/tech requirements, etc.). For in-person research, how will participants get there? What are the parking instructions? So on. 

  • Timeline: Use this opportunity to confirm key dates throughout the research project. For qualitative research, it’s also a great idea to cover any scheduling guidelines or restrictions. 

  • Next steps: What do you need from your client to get started? What is your next step from there? When can your client expect the first deliverable? 

Step #3: Screener Survey Design and Programming

Following a completed kickoff meeting, the next step is usually designing a recruitment screener.

Our market research recruitment company uses a screener to qualify your study participants, so it’s important that it’s exhaustive and includes all study qualifications. 

Reaching a finalized screener is typically a collaborative process between our team and our clients. Depending on the complexity of the target audience, client feedback or other knowledge may be needed. 

Once we have screener approval, we get started with programming the online screening questionnaire and our internal testing process.

It’s always recommended to test the screener before you begin deploying to potential participants. Broken questions or typos are not a great look! 

Step #4: Recruiting and Scheduling Participants

While the online screener is being internally tested and programmed, this is a great time to begin setting up your recruitment materials.

Common materials used when recruiting participants for a study include:

  • Contact list/call sheet: This sheet tracks all qualified respondents and their contact information. Recruiters work off of this sheet and record the outcome of each contact attempt, including responses to the re-screening/call script (if applicable). 

  • Quota sheet: Create a centralized place for recruiters to actively track their progress towards all targeted mixes/quotas. 

  • Re-screening/call script: This document is used by the recruiter to re-screen potential participants. It should also include an overview of the study, a summary of qualifications, and any reminders/next steps participants need to know. 

  • Confirmation emails: This should include a broad overview of the entire study. 

  • Calendar descriptions: We like to include as much detail as possible in as many places as possible, so that includes calendar invites! Think of these as a mini-confirmation email. 

Step #5: Confirmation Emails

Confirmations and reminders should be a multi-step part of each and every recruit. 

If you’ve read my blog on avoiding an automated research process, you should know I strongly advise against a “set it and forget it” style of recruitment. 

Confirmation emails should include all of the “need to know” information of a research study.

Here are some key points to cover in your confirmation emails: 

  • Where the research is taking place, and what is needed to access it. (Registration for online platforms, parking instructions, etc.) 
  • When the research is taking place (day, date, and time). 
  • How long the engagement will last 
  • What is needed for the study (special tech requirements, pre-homework, etc.) 
  • Point of contact if there are any questions or issues 
  • Incentive information (how much, how they will receive it, and when they should expect it

Here is an example of a standard confirmation email for virtual research interviews: 

Hi, [First name]!

Thank you for agreeing to participate in the online focus group with us! Please respond to this email with a “Yes” so we can confirm your receipt of this email. 

The interview will be on [Day, Date] at [Time] [Time zone] and will last approximately [LOI] minutes. The following day, you will be sent [amount and type of reward] as a thank you for your time and feedback following the interview. 

To join the interview, you will need to click this link: [Link]

We will also share a calendar invite with you that we ask you to accept. Both the email and the calendar invite include the link to log in.

We ask that you log on using the live meeting link we send at least 5-10 minutes early as the discussion will begin promptly at your scheduled time. If you have not logged into Zoom before the download and sign-in process is simple but the first time involves a few extra steps.

Please make sure you are in a quiet place for the entire discussion. If not, you may lose the opportunity to participate. 

We are counting on your participation as there are a limited number of spots in the study. If you cannot attend for any reason, please let me know as soon as possible.

Please contact me at [email] or [phone] if you have any questions.

Your moderator is looking forward to meeting you, and I hope you have a great day!

It is also recommended that you send participants a calendar invite. This is another great checkpoint to include highlights of the research such as:

  • Location
  • Day, date, and time 
  • Anything participants should keep in mind (materials they may need, remaining in a quiet place, etc.)

Step #6: Phone Call and Text Reminders

Similar to everything else in our recruitment process, reminders are a multi-step process. 

First, we start with a reminder phone call the day/night before the scheduled research. We make our best effort to reach participants live on the phone. 

If we are unable to reach them on our first attempt, we’ll try again. Nothing beats the verbal confirmation of having someone tell us “I will be there.” 

Next, on the day of the research, we send participants a final reminder text.

When this text is sent is strategic for us: 

  • If you send the text too early, participants may forget about the commitment before it happens. 
  • If you send it too late, they may not have enough time to put their shoes on, drive across town, check in, etc. 

Both reminders also confirm the tech required for the research, and that participants have everything they need (such as interview links, addresses, any pre-research homework, etc.). 

Recommended Reading: The Importance of Re-Screening Phone Calls When Recruiting for Market Research 

Step #7: Conducting the Study

Regardless if Drive Research or our client team is moderating, live coverage is provided for all research sessions. 

If someone is not on time, our client just needs to shoot us a quick note and we will reach out in an attempt to get them logged in or at the location. 

Most often, they are experiencing a tech issue we can assist with, or are having trouble locating the in-person location, and we are able to assist with directions. 

Even in the case of no-shows, this saves our clients time. No need to sit in a Zoom meeting for ~15 minutes waiting for a participant to arrive because there’s no one to reach out to the participant. 

If someone does not answer our call/text at scheduled research, we can assume they aren’t logging in after a few-minute grace period. 

Step #8: Rewards

In my opinion, participants should receive their reward as soon as possible after completing the study. Compensating quickly is another way to show we value their time and feedback. 

When companies take too long to compensate participants, it turns what could have been an exciting research study into a frustrating experience, and compromises their willingness to participate in research again. 

It should be very clear to participants what type of reward they will be receiving, how they will receive it, and when they should expect it. 

Recommended Reading: Higher Rewards Can Equal Lower Market Research Costs - Here's Why

Contact Drive Research to Recruit Participants

Want to stay hands-off for your next qualitative recruit? Contact Drive Research. 

Drive Research is a national market research company specializing in qualitative recruitment. We'll work with you each step of the way to ensure you receive quality participants who meet your target criteria. 

To learn more about our services, get in touch with us through any of the four ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040


Ashley Reynolds

With nearly 10 years of experience in market research, Ashley has worked on countless quantitative and qualitative research studies. As a Fieldwork Manager at Drive Research, she’s involved in every stage of the project, especially recruitment.

Learn more about Ashley, here.subscribe to our blog




Qualitative Recruiting