Not that long ago, I conducted a study in multiple markets. In one market, recruiting was done in the traditional way: all by phone. In another market, an email blast was sent out to filtered database members to see if they qualified based on category usage alone. In the third market, I later found out that the entire screener had been sent to filtered database members, with follow-up personal validation.
Truth is, I couldn’t tell the difference in the quality of recruits. They were all excellent.
A positive aspect of online recruiting is that you can screen someone all the way through without termination points and it doesn’t impact costs and/or you can prevent the use of the “back button” in the survey so that people can’t “beat the system” by changing/anticipating answers.
However, if online recruiting is to be done, qualitative researchers and facilities need to consider several things:
- Is the target online? It might be faster, more accurate, and less expensive to administer the screener online, but if the target isn’t represented online as it might be in the general telephone population (or even if they don’t check their email as often – a major problem I’ve noticed before), other options should be employed. Some stats:
- Only 79% of adults are online, according to a May ’10 Pew Research report; this doesn’t vary by urbanicity, although African Americans and Hispanics (English and Spanish speaking) are less likely to have Internet access (70% and 64%, respectively, Pew Jan ’10).
- As expected, Internet access is lower among older adults and those less well educated (only 38% of those age 65+ have Internet access, coupled with only 39% of those with less than a high school education and 63% of high school grads, Pew Jan ’10.)
- Security screening as it’s been done in the past needs to be re-worked for an online environment. (It probably should be re-worked anyway.) It’s fairly easy to focus on a potential recruit’s employment, but harder to get at immediate family “conflicts.” But it’s doable.
- Just as online quantitative surveys required alternative question types and scales to increase engagement, online self-administered qualitative screening questionnaires need to be written differently. This applies to questions about a participant’s aptitude for creativity, problem-solving, influencing others, etc., as well.
- For quality control:
- Qualitative researchers should be approving skip patterns and the like for the online survey versions vs. just passing off the screener in print form. (After all, the quality of the questionnaire creates an initial impression for the project, just as a personal recruiter does.)
- Personal follow-ups with new types of validation questions are needed to ensure the person recruited is who they say they are.
- Moderators should be hyper-vigilant in their own re-screening to ensure the newer methods are working as they’d like.
- The facilities need to build systems that verify respondents are answering the same way on key demographic questions from study-to-study – something that would increase the integrity of participants, however they’re recruited, for all studies.
Recruiting, like much of qualitative research, is both an art and a science. Technology and the Internet affords us other options for recruitment. As time goes on, other issues are likely to emerge.
For now, these are my thoughts. I’d love to hear what other moderators and clients have to add!