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How to Get the Right Participants for Your Next Online Market Research Initiative

Effective online market research hinges on the ability to accurately make sense of the data you collect. First, you need to consider the source of the data and whether it represents a holistic picture of the information you need.

The right mix of participants is vital for every online market research initiative. Your first step is to validate each participant beyond how they look on paper to ensure the most accurate, actionable results.

Here are some tips that can help streamline this process:

1. Select Candidates Based on Your Buyer Personas

When you’re vetting candidates and consumer research criteria, a good place to start is with your own buyer personas. You already know what your ideal buyers look like, so it’s an easy leap to apply those same characteristics to your market research. If you have multiple personas, then you’ll want to select candidates from each of those persona groups.

Ideally, you’ll include a mix of participants in each research project: customers who have bought from you, those who have purchased from a competitor, and those who have yet to purchase.

2. Pre-Qualify Candidates with a Self Assessment

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Self-assessments can help narrow the list of candidates.

To streamline the consumer research process, it’s helpful to allow candidates to conduct a pre-screening online prior to speaking with them directly. This allows you to save time weeding out candidates that won’t make it past the first set of preliminary questions.

The pre-qualifying questionnaire should contain general questions such as age, location, gender, and employment, as well as more probing questions like purchasing behaviors.

By narrowing the list of participants, you can better direct your time and resources to the ones that are more likely to qualify.

3. Check the Tech

Ensure that your potential candidates have the ability to either participate in-person or technology and/or bandwidth to participate online. This is especially important when conducting focus groups in multiple countries where technologies vary widely. If at all possible, perform a tech check prior to ensure your participants are adequately prepared to take part in the discussion.

4. Assign Some Homework

Another way to ensure a good candidate fit is to require the completion of a simple task or two that may reveal a lot about your participant. For example, you might ask candidates to pull a picture from the internet that represents how they feel about a brand, or to take a quick photo of their pantry or laundry room. The task should be something simple, but something that is relevant to your research.

5. Avoid ‘Leading’ Questions

The quality of your screening questions is paramount. These questions ensure that candidates who truly aren’t qualified to participate will not be able to move forward.

When questions are designed to “lead” a candidate to the right answer, it can be too easy for them to circumvent your efforts to eliminate them.

For example, instead of asking if a candidate works in a specific industry, you could leave the question open-ended or allow them to choose from a list. The goal is to make it hard for them to guess the “right” answers. You want honest, thoughtful responses.

6. Exclude Previous Participants

If you’re looking for variety, it’s a good idea to exclude customers who have already participated in your market research. Your exclusion list can also include specific criteria that don’t align with the demographic for which you’re looking.

How Empowers Your Online Market Research

At, our team focuses on the finer details of every research initiative. We put our experience to work in creating pre-qualification questionnaires, in-depth screeners, and discussion guides to ensure you get holistic, thoughtful responses from your candidates.

Take the guesswork out of getting the right participants for your next online market research initiative by letting handle the details for you. To learn more, download the Ebook: Best Practices for Online Focus Groups.

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