Research recruitment on social media

Leisa Reichelt

A few people were surprised when I sent a message on Twitter recently to recruit some extra people for our next round of user research.

A close up of a hand opening the Twitter app on an iPhone.

I thought it might be useful to explain why we occasionally use our social media channels to invite people to participate in user research and what processes we follow when we do this.

We do user research in every sprint. It is a key part of how we make sure our services meet user needs and also meet the Digital Service Standard. This means we’re regularly recruiting participants to be involved in this user research.

Typically, we use a specialist agency to do the recruitment for us. We give them a brief about the kinds of people we want to talk to, they turn this into a ‘screener’, and then provide us with a list of people, their locations and when we can meet them.

This is the most efficient way to ensure you get high quality and appropriate respondents into user research on a regular basis.

Sometimes, our researcher recruiters have trouble meeting the brief – they might have difficulty finding enough people to participate, or the right types of people. When this happens, they’ll let us know that they need extra help to source participants. One of the ways we might do this is to ask people on the team, and other people we know, to reach out and help us find appropriate respondents.

We don’t like to do this often because our personal and social media networks inherently bring a set of biases that could skew the findings we get from the user research but it is better than cancelling the research (as long as we remain aware of the potential for bias).

When we do a call out like this the usual processes of research recruitment still apply. People who respond on social media still go through the usual screening processes and need to fit the proper criteria for participation.

We also still use the standard processes for paying an incentive for participation, which is done through the supplier we have contracted to assist with user research.

Paying incentives for participation in user research is common practice both commercially and in governments around the world. It makes best use of public servants time by ensuring we attract high-quality respondents and have fewer drop-outs in during research, so we get better research work done more quickly.

So, while people might be initially surprised to learn we’re using social media and paying incentives to research participants, it’s a widely accepted and very appropriate approach to take. It helps us to not lose time in the design and development process, and to continue to implement a rigorous, iterative and user centred development method - with the outcome being better services delivered, faster.