Recruiting Participants Online


Of all the elements of research, participant recruitment is by far my least favorite. I feel like a desperate bloody saleswoman, going around begging anyone I can get in contact with to do me a favor.  The thought makes me pull the picture face. Picture face sounds like “Nuh-Uh-hhh-hhffmm”.

So, I learned an important lesson this year. Online studies are not easier than lab-based studies. For some reason, I thought they would be. Last year I had to try and convince ~30 people to come and sit in a lab for about an hour and it was a nightmare. Constant no shows, really difficult to convince people to do it, it took a month or two.

But I thought, 130 participants online would be a piece of cake. I mean there’s an estimated 3.2 billion internet users world-wide, if 10% of them smoked that would be a potential participant pool of 320,000,000. After a month I have a grand total of 78.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is that out of 78 who have agreed to participate, only ~30 have started the survey and only 3 have completed it. The attrition is shocking.

The most reliable source of recruitment has been the University’s own SONA system. However I have found some other good recruitment sources I would like to share;

  1. is amazing. It’s a site where completing other people’s online studies moves your own up the ranking, and people are motivated to complete your study to move their own up the ranking. Of course it’s of a limited sample representativeness and there’s a limit to how many participants you can recruit due to the number of users the website currently has. But yes, five stars. Definitely one where its use will grow with users.
  2. Classifields- all of them. Literally all of them. I have posted on gumtree, fridayads, craigslist, reddit, various free online and local classifields and free-ads. Usually ending up in the community>volunteer section, its a great way to expand outside of the usual student population page.
  3. Social Media. The most numerically effective way of recruitment has actually just been to directly ask (via DM or PM) people on my friends/follow list if they’d like to participate or could send over the link to one friend who does smoke and might do.

But I think there’s one valuable thing I can share with you in hindsight. If you are a first year university student, start doing this now, because you will be oh so fucking grateful when you come to do your 2nd or 3rd year projects or your Masters/PhD. Create a fucking mailing list. I’m not sure how, you’ll have to be interesting, go to something interesting, but constantly collect the emails of people you meet/interact with somewhere safe so that when you need participants for your research you’ve got a list to call on. I mean, if it’s anything like facebook you’ll probably get ignored by most of them, but that’s all the more reason to get as many as you physically can.