In this article, we’ll walk you through finding the best-fit users for user research.

How to recruit users for user research


Finding the best-fit participants for user research sometimes feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. In a 2019 survey by Marketing Charts, nearly 50% of respondents revealed that recruiting participants is the second most challenging stage for UX researchers. 

So how do you cut through and narrow down to specific users who can provide valuable information for your next product? 

It all starts with defining who your ideal participants are and knowing where to find them. Use this step-by-step guide to learn how to recruit users for user research.    

Step 1: Identify Target Profiles 

Ultimately, the goal of user research is to collect relevant data and feedback from the best-fit participants. So, the first thing you should do is develop a persona or user profile of the ideal research subjects. 

Understandably, this can be a challenge, especially when your product seems to appeal to everyone. To cut through the mental noise and identify relevant participants, start with foundational questions like: 

  1. What are the goals of this research process? 
  2. Who am I building this product for? 
  3. Who are/would be the potential primary users of this product? 
  4. What is the ideal sample size for this research? 

At the end of this exercise, you should have enough data to map out the target profiles for the study. 

Spell Out the Recruitment Criteria

In most cases, everyone in the participants' pool wouldn't end up in your user research sample population. There's a need to filter target profiles using specific criteria so you're left with potential participants who can provide valuable insights for your project. 

Depending on the study's complexity, you can have simple recruitment criteria, such as age, location, and other demographics. In other instances, you need to work with more specific criteria like direct experience with the research context. For example, if you plan to launch a CRM software, you can narrow user research participants to people in sales and marketing teams that already use CRM software to manage clients. 

When you've outlined the recruitment criteria, you can develop a screener survey. A screener survey lists a few questions to help you determine whether a user is a good fit for your research. 

Create a List of Channels for Connecting with the Target Profiles 

Now you know who your ideal participants are, but where do you find them? To avoid setting out on a wild goose chase, consider creating target profile segments based on existing users, potential customers, and competitors' users. 

Existing Users 

Existing users are individuals who already have some interaction with your business—they may be repeat customers or people who have made one-off purchases. Your current customers can provide lots of relevant feedback since they are familiar with your business. Get your sales and marketing teams on board to help engage these users. 

Potential Customers 

Potential users are people who are capable of purchasing your product or paying for service subscriptions. You can find them hanging out on online communities on Facebook, Linkedin, and Reddit. 

Finding communities with your ideal audience is a breeze these days. 

If you did a rough Google search for: <name of community + forum>; that is, <product designers + Slack>, you'd discover several online groups with this target audience. 

You can even build a Slack community for potential users and use the community-first approach to engage with them and collect information. 

Alternatively, you can: 

  1. Use research recruitment agencies to connect with potential user research participants
  2. Target specific audience profiles via paid ads on Facebook and LinkedIn
  3. Interact with the potential audience on user interview platforms

Competitors' Users 

If you're launching a new product and don't have an existing database of users, you can rely on data from your competitors for relevant insights. 

When you pay a quick visit to any company's website, you'd find customer success stories plus testimonials that can serve as secondary user research data. Also, social media platforms like Twitter are good sources of real-time feedback from competitors' users. 

Set Incentive 

Offering incentives is a great way to build participants' interest and engagement in user research. Even if you have an existing pool of loyal customers who are willing to participate in your study, setting up a simple reward system for participants shows that their time and input are valuable

So how should you structure the reward program for user research? 

The truth is there are several factors to consider when making a decision on the appropriate compensation for participants. A rule of thumb that can help here is: The more specific your target audience is, the higher their compensation. For example, users who are C-level managers might require a more robust incentive compared to entry-level staff. 

If you're doing an in-person user interview, you can offer $1–$2 per minute, depending on the expertise of the target users. The reward system can be non-monetary, such as an Amazon or Starbucks "thank you" gift card, discount or promo codes, and exclusive access to the research report. 

Step 2: Recruit Participants

Before recruiting participants for your project, you must have made a decision to adopt a particular user research method. There are several options here—for example, you can organize interviews with participants or conduct usability testing. 

Create a Recruitment Campaign 

All the initial groundwork you've done comes to play here. Specifically, your recruitment campaign should have the following information: 

  1. The ideal participant's profile
  2. Channels
  3. The purpose and goals of your research
  4. The duration of the study and time-commitment for participants
  5. Incentives
  6. Research method 

Sample Recruitment Email for User Research 

Subject Line: Do CRMs Matter for Product Teams? 

Subhead: You Can Contribute to Product Design Research 



Our team is working on a new study involving product teams, and we need your help. 

This study aims to see how product teams leverage the information in CRM software to build better products. The responses would be compiled into a research report to improve the collaboration between product and customer-facing teams (sales, marketing, and customer success). 

Why You Should Participate  

  • Every participant would get a $100 Amazon "thank you" gift card
  • We'll backlink to the websites of contributing organizations
  • We'll send a copy of the research report to you

Research Method and Timeline 

Three(3) virtual interviews over approximately two(2) weeks 

Who Can Participate

Product designers and managers working within teams that use CRM software for client management

Please let me know if you have any questions, and we'll be happy to help. If you'd like to participate in this research, grab your spot here, and a member of our team will be in touch. 

Set Up a Form to Collect Details 

The recruitment email should include a link to a screening survey where interested persons fill in their details. This online survey would help you keep track of all the data, so no information gets lost in the sauce. Standard form builders for user research include Asana, Airtable, Typeform, and Getform.

Ideally, the participant's interest form should have a brief description of your research process. It should also contain bio-data fields, questions related to the screening criteria, a checkbox to confirm the participant's consent authorizing the use of their data, plus a link to your organization's privacy policy. 

You can review submissions on a rolling basis and shortlist suitable participants. 

Schedule Sessions 

Email is the best way to communicate with shortlisted research participants. The first email you send should ask selected users to confirm their interest in your research. Be sure to set clear expectations for the entire process—the study method, duration, and the kinds of information required from participants. 

You can use Calendly to schedule sessions with users. 

Sample Follow-up Email for User Research 

Hi There, 

You're receiving this email because you indicated an interest in our research for product managers. 

As communicated earlier, this research would involve three(3) virtual interviews over approximately two(2) weeks. Here's the Calendly link to the virtual sessions. These sessions would include 15-minutes chats with a member of our team. 

Kindly confirm your ability to participate in these interviews here. If you have any questions or require clarifications, respond to this email, and we'll be in touch. 

Step 3: Build a Database of People You Can Reach Out To

Chances are you'd have to conduct another research in the foreseeable future, so it's best to have a user base of different types of people you can reach out to quickly. 

Epiphany is an excellent tool for building user research databases for product teams. In the customer panel, you can create unique customer profiles with key demographics, segment customers based on their needs, visualize research data, organize key findings, and keep track of your interactions—all in one place. 

As a product manager or designer, you know first-hand that finding users for user research can be a chore, and it's unrewarding to start this process from scratch whenever you're developing a new product. By switching to a user research database, you can quickly find the best-fit customers for subsequent studies and gather relevant insight on time. 

Wrapping Up

Treat user research recruitment like finding prospects for an organization's sales pipeline. 

You don't need to go overboard with your recruitment process. Instead, take time to draw up specific criteria to help you connect with people who can provide relevant feedback for your product development.

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