I’ve been experimenting with recruiting, and the results have been surprising.
Recently, I’ve avoided recruiting participants for interviews directly. First, I start with a survey. But at the bottom of the survey, the last question asks if they’re willing to join an interview with me to share more feedback.
This isn’t really a new tactic. Yet since I’ve switched exclusively to this method of recruiting for interviews, I’ve actually tripled the willing participants among a tough B2B user base.
Yes, on average, three times as many people are willing to join even my longest, most challenging interviews.
How to get more research participants without higher compensation
This finding was a happy accident — I wasn’t originally trying to increase participation, though recruiting is always one of the toughest things about research.
It was also by accident that I realized why it was happening. I was listening to an audiobook, The Catalyst, this week, and suddenly in the middle of a chapter, author Jonah Berger started telling me exactly why I was getting more participants.
Berger detailed how a group of researchers was trying to increase responses during their study. They first asked people to allow the researchers into their homes for a few hours — a pretty big ask — and most people declined.
Then, they changed their approach.
Instead, they first requested a short phone call with just a few questions — a small request — and many more people agreed. Researchers called the participants and asked their few questions.
Only then, during the call, did they ask if they could also come to their homes (their initial objective). At this point, a full half of the participants agreed — a noteworthy increase in participation compared with their first attempt.
The final task — participants letting researchers into their homes for the study — didn’t change. So why did the level of participation increase so dramatically?
Why starting with a smaller ask works
By asking the big thing after they’ve done the small thing, you move people’s zones of acceptance and rejection:
“Agreeing to a small related ask moved people in the right direction. Which meant that the final ask, which once would have been too far away, was now within the zone of acceptance.” — Jonah Berger, The Catalyst
Move the person’s zone of acceptance first
When people move their position on an acceptance-rejection spectrum, their range of willingness moves, too. The final ask (the interview, in my case) had originally been in a person’s zone of rejection — it was too far away from the position where they started.
But joining my survey first actually moved each person’s range of acceptance. They’d become “people who do this sort of thing,” as Berger says, and joining my interview now fell much closer to the task they’d already completed.
We can also compare this to the challenge of making big life changes, something many of us have experience struggling with.
Most people can’t fathom running 50 miles per week right from the start. The first request, the end goal (run 50 miles per week), is too far away if I’m starting from the couch. It’s too drastic a change.
Starting small, with 15 miles a week, moves my zone of acceptance. Running 50 miles comes closer into view when I’m able to run 15 miles a week, and then 30 miles. The numbers are no longer in a completely different realm from the final “request” I’m making of myself. And suddenly I’m also believing that I’m a runner and therefore “someone who does this sort of thing.” If I tried to commit to 50 miles a week from the start, I’d have given up immediately.
Break things down into smaller steps
I’ve always been a bit afraid of asking more of someone who has participated in research already — be it a survey, or NPS, or other. Give the mouse a crumb, and they want the whole cookie. I didn’t want to be that mouse. But as it turns out, this works.
The key to increased participation is breaking down the big request into smaller pieces that are easier to commit to.
This is what happened when I “accidentally” received more participants by getting them to respond to a survey first. By joining the survey, they’d become people who participate in research in their own eyes. I’d moved the goal post closer: joining a survey is closer to joining an interview than they had been from the start, having never joined my research before.
In four rounds of recruiting, this has generated an average of three times as many participants for my deeper research, mostly interviews, than I’d ever had previously.
Have you tried this approach?
I’d be really curious to hear if others are using this tactic, and how it’s working out for you.
If this is the first time you’re hearing of this, then best of luck trying this for your first time!