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Our panel includes over 499,000 vetted participants in 7 countries. But we know that many user researchers want to build and manage their own panel, which is why we also offer a Free Forever plan for our all-in-one research platform.
Why have your own research panel?
Managing your own user research panel gives you access to faster insights by allowing you to recruit from a pool of pre-screened users (often loyal customers) who have already opted into research. You can also create richer participant profiles by talking to the same people multiple times, giving you a deeper understanding of their evolving needs and preferences.
Of course, as with most things worth doing, there’s more than one way to recruit your own panel.
How to recruit your own user research panel
For our State of User Research 2021 report, we surveyed 525 researchers—including full-time UX researchers, UX designers, product managers, and other folks who do user research as part of their jobs—to learn more about their roles, responsibilities, and processes.
Over 60% of respondents who recruited their own research panel used two or more tools to get the job done.
In this article, we’ll go over seven of the most popular methods, according to our respondents. We’ve broadly grouped these into three categories:
- tools with dedicated recruitment panels,
- email/CRM tools,
- and DIY research recruitment methods.
Bear in mind that you can choose to combine a few tools to create a flow that works for you or opt for a single multipurpose tool that gets the job done automagically.
Dedicated research tools and recruitment panels
A dedicated research tool can help you recruit participants more effectively. Since these tools are built with researcher needs in mind, they come with features that make participant recruitment easier—which is especially useful as your research program scales.
1. User Interviews
User Interviews was the second-most popular tool for recruiting your own users, according to the State of User Research 2021 report (note that 50% of our survey audience came from within our owned channels). In addition to our own panel of users (available via Recruit), our Research Hub platform can help make your research ops run smoothly by taking care of participant scheduling, keeping track of important participant data, and even managing incentive distribution after a research session.
Free Forever – $0
- Unlimited researcher seats
- Up to 100 contacts in your participant CRM
- Panel building participant opt-in form
- Automatic scheduling, emails, and incentive payments
- 1:1 and bulk messaging
- Unlimited screener survey questions and pages
- Screener survey skip logic
- Zoom integration
Essential – $125/month
Everything in Free Forever, plus:
- Up to 5,000 contacts in your participant CRM
- Custom branding for your emails, study applications, and opt-in form
- Send emails from custom domains
- Custom participant data consent notice
- Standardize participant invite criteria across your team with Hub invite rules
- Keep automated messaging consistent with email templates
- Dedicated Customer Success support
- Custom onboarding for your team
Enterprise – Chat with Sales
Everything in Essential, plus:
- > 5,000 contacts in your participant CRM
- SSO / SAML support
- Security review
- Customizable contract terms
SurveyMonkey is a powerful survey tool that allows researchers to create surveys with complex logic as a way to learn more about their customers. This can be a very helpful first step in building a research panel; based on survey responses, you can then match customers to the right research studies.
SurveyMonkey was popular in our State of User Research Report, with 21% of respondents saying they used the powerful survey tool to build their own research panels. However, only 2 respondents said they used SurveyMonkey alone to get the job done. For the vast majority (97%) this tool was just one part of a longer workflow.
The most popular combination was actually using SurveyMonkey and User Interviews together to recruit your own panel—44% of SurveyMonkey users also use User Interviews. An example of how these two tools work together would be collecting Net Promoter Scores (NPS) via SurveyMonkey, then adding participants to a User Interviews panel for research down the road.
SurveyMonkey has a few different plans available, depending on your needs. Individual plans start at $34/month, team plans start at $25 per user per month. They also have enterprise plans available for teams that need advanced features.
Of the researchers who took our survey, 15% said they used UserTesting to recruit their own panel for research. UserTesting is a robust research platform, with usability testing, participant recruitment, and panel management all rolled up into one tool. This can be helpful for large research teams who need to manage everything in one place. For the same reason, it can also be an expensive option.
UserTesting does not share pricing details until you hop on a call with their Sales team. They have both individual and enterprise plans available.
If you’re managing your research panel recruitment on your own, an email tool or CRM can help you organize your outreach to participants. Many teams already have access to an email tool or CRM through their marketing or sales departments, and bringing that data to your research panel can help you recruit the right participants faster.
17% of respondents said that they used a marketing CRM or email tool like Mailchimp to recruit their own participants for research.
Mailchimp is primarily used for sending great emails to your customers, but it also has some powerful audience management tools that can help you identify and manage lists of good people to contact for research purposes.
Like SurveyMonkey, many people who do research don’t use Mailchimp alone to get the job done—88% of respondents who used Mailchimp to recruit participants for their own panel also used at least one other tool.
If you’re curious about using a marketing CRM to manage your research efforts, Mailchimp has a free version to get you started. If you use the platform regularly, you’ll likely need to upgrade to a paid plan, which starts at $10 a month.
Salesforce is the go-to tool for managing a sales pipeline. It’s also a fairly popular way to recruit a research panel—15% of the respondents in our State of User Research 2021 said they used it for this purpose.
This can be a good solution if your organization is already using Salesforce to manage other customer-facing journeys (and is trying to keep the number of tools you use to a minimum).
Salesforce is a complicated tool with complicated pricing. Their Sales product, which is likely what your organization would use to monitor the sales pipeline, starts at $25 per user per month.
DIY research recruitment
For a totally DIY approach, you can use a combination of single- or general-purpose tools to recruit your panel. This can include things like Calendly, an email CRM of some kind, social media, and/or some good old spreadsheets.
A DIY approach can be useful when budgets are tight or enterprise restrictions prevent you from using an external CRM.
Calendly was the most popular tool in our survey, among researchers who recruit their own panels (30% of people said they used it in this way). Once again, Calendly was used as part of a stack—90% of researchers who used Calendly also used at least one other tool to recruit their own participants.
This makes sense, since Calendly is not a robust CRM for storing participant data. It’s a scheduling too—and a fantastic one at that—and can make setting up sessions simpler for both participants and researchers. With Calendly, you can send a single link to every participant and they can choose a time on your schedule that works best for them. Everything automatically updates, so you won’t have to worry about double booking.
Calendly offers a free plan, which should be enough for most users, but you can upgrade to premium plans starting at $8 a month.
Nearly a fifth (18%) of people who do research used social media to recruit their own users for research. Social media is a great way to reach out to engaged customers for participation in research—sharing your research panel’s opt-in form or linking to your Calendly for a research session can help you reach more customers, although you may end up with a broader pool of participants than you’re looking for. Still, social media can be a valuable complement to other strategies.
More tools for recruiting your own users
There you have it, the 7 most popular tools for recruiting your own user research panel. You can choose to go with a dedicated research tool like User Interviews to manage everything in one place, or take a more DIY approach with social media + Calendly + an email tool/CRM.
🗺 For a full view of the user research tools landscape, don’t miss our 2021 UX Research Tools Map. 🗺
Looking to manage your participant data, schedule sessions, and distribute incentives all from one tool? Try Research Hub for free, forever.
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