How to recruit the right participants for your online research community

published on April, 2024

image of a market researchers online community moderator meeting with online research participants and business respondents conducting researchIn the realm of customer insights, sourcing the right sample for online communities to echo a specific customer base poses a considerable challenge. Consequently, many brands have turned to establishing their own market research online communities, affording fast access to qualified participants eager to give back valuable feedback, even on complex topics.

While the effort can seem daunting, here are some effective tips and extensive guidance for successfully constructing an online research community.

Online research communities should align with the business and research objectives of key stakeholders

The first critical step involves internal dialogue among different departments interested in gaining customer feedback. Given that insights from target customers can have widespread reach throughout a company, understanding and aligning on the online research community's purpose and anticipated research related activities and needs is paramount to optimizing its potential. Some important questions to consider include:

  • What initiatives are taking place throughout the company? There may be opportunities to support or enhance those efforts with the qualitative research an online research community would provide. Finding out what other departments might be interested in learning will help inform whether the company needs a dedicated online community platform (versus sourcing participants on an ad hoc basis.) It will ensure that you maintain a healthy member engagement rate and that this significant investment is justified.

  • Who do you need to hear from? You'll want to ensure that your research community reflects your target audience. With a market research online community specific to your brand, you'll want to think about demographics, segments, personas, and what quotas you need to hit to get an accurate representation.

  • How will you incentivize research community members to participate?  Offering incentives is critical and cannot be an afterthought. Despite the belief that consumers would voluntarily provide feedback, market research online communities with appropriate incentive programs achieve much higher participation rates.

This foundational alignment of objectives ensures that your recruitment efforts are fruitful and worthwhile.

image of an email notification alerting a potential online research community participant of a research project opportunityInvitations to participate in a research community should be strategic

It's important to consider your outreach strategy before beginning recruitment for community members. Investing time and energy into messaging that fails to resonate or engage is a fruitless attempt, both for you and your potential online community members.

In most cases, email is most efficient—especially when trying to recruit established customers. However, it is crucial that the email's sender is trusted. Recruitment emails originating directly from the brand or the company itself have higher open and engagement rates versus those from a third party, as customers recognize and trust the sender. 

Data security and sensitivity are also something to consider—when companies email from their own domain, it alleviates the need to share thousands (and hundreds of thousands) of customer records. While there are secure methods of transferring such data, a better approach is to email customers from a trusted domain to see who is interested in joining the online community. A third-party that specializes in managing insight communities can nurture the relationships that follow. Such partners can guide the recruitment email strategy and content for potential community members—you only have to hit “Send.”

Make participating in a market research online community inviting and compelling

While the term “market research” does not necessarily excite consumers, the opportunity to share in-depth insights about something they are passionate about, with additional rewards, can be an appealing proposition for participants in online communities. Here are some tips for crafting invites that turn into sign-ups:

  • The invitation should be short and compelling, with only the most important information—why respondents should join a market research online community, and what they'll get out of it.

  • Include multiple opportunities for prospective community members to click to join (and any deadlines they must meet to do so) in the digital space. 

  • Run A/B tests to determine which subject lines are most successful before sending to larger audiences.

  • Perform spam tests to increase deliverability. Terms like “gift card” and “reward” are examples that could land your email in junk inboxes.

photo of utilities customer using QR code on account bill to learn more about available market research online communitiesConsider what other sources can help with online research community recruitment

Though email has the most successful recruitment rate, other ways exist to build online research communities—especially when targeting current customers. Leverage existing touchpoints, like reminders at the end of ongoing customer communication, website pop-ups, or QR codes on bills and other messages for higher response rates. Social media also provides an excellent platform for casting a wider net—ensure to target individuals that meet the online community criteria.

Getting started with market research online communities

If ongoing research with customers is a priority, investing in an online research community is a great consideration for saving time and money. Contact one of our community research specialists to determine whether establishing a pool of qualified customers in an online community is right for your brand's goals and long-term needs.