How important is recruiting method to your online qualitative study?

There is no doubting that the quality of research participant recruitment has a direct impact on data reliability and the quality of insights. Recruitment methodology should always be appropriate for the target audience but equally, it should be appropriate for your research methodology. Unfortunately, that is often overlooked in procurement of online qualitative data collection.

When was the last time you consulted with your recruiter about the methods being adopted for your online qualitative study?

Three approaches to recruiting for online qualitative

Often lost in the noise about all the various platforms and technologies now available for online qualitative research is the essential element of how to recruit respondents for online qualitative methodologies. Without quality respondents, an otherwise perfectly-designed project is put at great risk. And just as there are appropriate recruiting approaches for in-person qual and online quant, there are also appropriate methods for recruiting to online qual methodologies.


We have all made that impulse buy of an item of clothing labelled “one-size-fits-all” – as if it promises mystical expanding, contracting and enhancing powers – and then felt remorse as we look in the mirror and question the loose semantics of the word “fit.” Equally, for online qualitative recruitment a “one-size-fits-all” approach can have a disappointing outcome. For optimized results, a good recruiter must evaluate the research design, target audience, methodology, chosen technology and study budget before we can determine how to best to tailor a solution for filling the digital seats.

Let’s explore a few scenarios.

Traditionally, if you needed respondents for your study you were either contacting a panel provider for quant surveys or a telephone recruiter for qual projects. Today, we operate in an industry packed with hybrid and multimode research methodologies compounded by new technologies and platforms for hosting online research, particularly within online qual. It follows that recruiters need to be nimble in their approach and follow suit with hybrid methods for recruitment.

There are certainly many ways to find respondents and at Schlesinger Group we are often required to get creative in our recruitment methods but depending on the specifications involved, we generally select one of three main ways in which to recruit for online qual:

  1. Traditional telephone recruit
  2. Web-to-Web (W2W) recruit
  3. Web-to-Web with telephone confirmations/validations

Each approach has its merits and its pitfalls so it is important that you know how your project is being recruited in order to discuss how each merit can be built-on or each pitfall can be countered for the best recruiting outcome.

1. Traditional telephone recruit

A traditional phone recruit is most familiar to qual researchers when conducting IDIs or focus groups at a facility or even TDIs and in-person ethnographies off-site. Telephone recruitment is still necessary for a large portion of online qual projects, driven by the need for hard-to-find respondents. Many projects are conducted as online qual specifically because the respondents are too hard to find in particular markets, making in-person qual infeasible. It follows that phone work is still required for these recruits. A phone recruit will take an average of two to three weeks and is best suited when sample sizes are fewer than 50. Pricing will vary depending on target audience but will be comparable to national TDI pricing.

2. Web-to-Web recruit

A W2W recruit is what comes to mind when we think of quantitative online surveys. With online qual projects, a W2W recruit may be the best option when large sample sizes and tight recruiting windows are at play. W2W is usually appropriate for high-volume, high-incidence recruits feeding into an online community or mobile ethnography. Large sample sizes can be achieved very quickly (i.e., 300 consumers at a 60 percent IR can be completed in six to nine days).

The biggest wrinkle with W2W recruitment for online qual is the question of over-recruitment – with so many different platform technologies, time frames, apps, tasks, etc., there are few standard notions for an appropriate over-recruitment. We’ve found that some require a 40 percent over-recruit, while others require a 300 percent over-recruit. Knowing the level of engagement you can expect from each respondent is a bit of a mystery without the telephone validation and with so many projects requiring respondents to download an app, make a shopping visit or any number of other activities, relying wholly on surveys and e-mails carries some risk. While the individual CPR may be remarkably cheap, if you end up needing to over-recruit by 300 percent it may not be worth it. Make sure you are exploring the implications of taking this route with your recruiter.

3. Web-to-Web with telephone confirmations/validations

The most common – and most accepted – solution for online qualitative projects, W2W with phone confirmations is generally cheaper and faster than traditional phone recruiting but still ensures higher quality and engagement than a straight Web recruit. Additionally, there is a value in having respondents complete the full screener online, as participation in the research itself will take place online, so qualifying the screener is the first indication of competence in that medium. This method of recruitment has worked for consumers, business professionals, patients and health care professionals. It also has affordability going for it too, as the pricing usually comes in around 60-to-75 percent of regular telephone recruitment pricing.

Tailored recruitment is important and begins at the bidding stage – how respondents will be recruited has a clear impact on price, timing and feasibility. If any of those items is out of line with your expectations then your recruiter may have an approach worth discussing. Make sure you engage with your recruiter and seek a consultative approach to the management of your recruitment, because one size most certainly does not fit all.


Jason is an expert in online qualitative data collection and hybrid studies and heads up Schlesinger’s Online Qualitative Solutions. He can be reached at jason.horine@schlesingergroup.com.