Guest post by Emma Slater

Emma is a freelance qualitative researcher who has worked with me on a number of projects. She loves doing the stuff I don't and is rather good at it. Running focus groups, depth interviews, basically speaking to people...

It can be difficult to get people to take part in market research.  Particularly qualitative research (think focus groups and lengthy interviews), which often involves people giving up a significant chunk of their time to talk about things that are really important to you or your organisation, but not always so much to them.

Whilst it’s important to get a good turnout (you don’t want two people turning up to a focus group that has taken weeks to prepare, organise and pay for), it is more important that the right people are taking part. 

Quality over quantity

When looking to do qualitative research, one of the first questions you should ask is ‘who do we really want to hear from?’.  Is it non-customers, people of a certain demographic, people who hold certain views, people who aren’t on social media (there are some still out there!)?

In times of tight purse strings and while the shadow of austerity lingers, organisations (particularly the public sector and not-for-profits) are often looking to keep the budget down.

And qualitative research is pretty expensive.  It can involve a lot of time and a lot of people.  But when done well, the level of understanding you can achieve can be truly insightful and impactful. 

Finding the right people

To do qualitative research well and to get those useful insights, it is crucial that you are listening to the right people.  Sometimes it is tempting to look through the breakdown of costs for research to see where corners could be cut. Zooming in on recruitment costs, you might decide that you can probably organise this yourself. 

And what could go wrong?  You have a list of customers or residents, you have a social media channel to reach them, surely it will be easy? 

In reality, getting bums on seats is fairly easy, particularly if there is a financial incentive or if the topic in discussion is one that provokes strong reactions (such as changing local services).  Without a good recruitment process however, you are unlikely to get the people you are really interested in hearing from, and certainly won’t reach those participants who tend to be harder to reach. 

By sending out a request into the ether of social media, you’re at risk of getting the ‘usual suspects’, those who hold particularly strong views on the subject in hand and are very keen to get their specific view across, or people who are of similar demographics.

So, how to get the right bums on seats? Here are some tips on things to consider if you do need to keep costs down and do your own recruitment:

Tips on the recruitment process

Identify who you want to engage with

Identify the key characteristics of the people you really want to hear from.  It is common that organisations want to engage with people from particular groups, such as certain ages, gender or ethnicity.

Along with demographics, you may also want to engage with people from particular postcode areas, who use certain services or who use specific social media channels. You may also identify people you don’t want to engage with, such as people who might be too close to a subject or those unlikely to hold any views on the matter.

Develop a recruitment screener

Once you’ve identified your target audience, create a recruitment screener to ‘screen out’ anyone who doesn’t fit your target profile. 

It is tempting to include question after question to find the ‘perfect participant’.  Try not to do this - make sure you only ask essential questions and beware of making the screener too specific.  Trying to find male vegans, aged 41-45 who work in insurance and use the library at least once a week is not going to be very easy!

Go find people, don’t expect them to find you

Don’t rely on social media or a post to your website alone.  Think about different ways you can reach your target audience – if you are looking for parents for example, contact local schools to see if they would send out an email, involve volunteer and community groups, put posters up in local supermarkets, doctors, sports clubs, the list could go on.  Think about your key target audience and go to them – don’t expect them to find you.

Use a specialist recruiter or recruitment agency

If the budget allows, then why not use a specialist recruitment agency.  Not only will they find the people for you and have processes in place to make sure people actually turn up, but they also have a wealth of experience and knowledge about how likely it is to find your target audience.


So if you're looking to do some qualitative research, remember it’s not just bums on seats. It’s about whose bum is on each seat.