By Melanie Brewer
So, we all know now that users are the key to any innovative design/Lean/human-centered product development approach.
No, not the kind of users that are in and out of rehab. Erm...unless you are trying to design a better rehab. Then maybe they actually are your target audience.
Anyway, you get my point. You're a user experience person. You need users. To talk to. About their experiences.
So how do you find these users? "Ohhh, Psssh," you say. "Not a problem. I work at a company...I'll just run down to Sales and Marketing and get their list." If so, congratulations, don't read any further.
But I'm talking to the rest of you...you DON'T have that list. You're a student, working on a class project that's due yesterday. Or you're working at a startup, so your customer list doesn't even exist yet. Or maybe you don't want to bug your customers again. What then?
Well, sometimes, people turn to their own personal networks, reaching out over Facebook, or cornering relatives at the Superbowl or Thanksgiving. This works...up to a point. In this kind of scenario you do have to keep in mind that your subjects who are close personal friends or, uh, YOUR MOM, may not really be telling you the whole truth. After all, they know you...there's no going back from the fact that they've just admitted to eating at Chik-fil-A every day.
In other words, with this kind of guerilla recruiting/research, a lack of anonymity can sometimes bias the results or inhibit participants from saying what's really on their minds.
And what if you're trying to recruit people who've never heard of super common technologies like Google Drive or who are heavy users of emerging technologies (Amazon Echo/Alexa in 2015). This can be really hard even if you do have a customer list.
Worry no more. I've discovered an amazing site for recruiting users of all shapes, sizes and technical ability. I'm going to share this site with you now. By the way it's free.
Craigslist. Now, before you laugh too hard, or dismiss this as amateur hour, realize that I'm not the only one. I was delighted to recently read that the authors of the Google Sprint book ("Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz) are also fans of this approach for recruiting.
The fact is, it is just amazing how many different types of people use Craigslist. And how happy they are to talk to you about lightbulbs, instead of doing the housecleaning job or whatever they came to Craigslist to find.
I've been using Craigslist since a desperation-fueled recruitment effort as part of an innovation and design thinking course. We had to innovate on a light socket...coming up with something that repurposed a light socket to provide outstanding utility and even (that word!) delight to the users. Obviously, there was no budget for recruiting.
The Superbowl was months away, so I turned to Craigslist. Amazingly, I lined up some interviewees in the right demographic who were willing to talk for just a $15 gift card. The project was a huge success. It was great.
Since then I've used Craigslist again and again to recruit users. Particularly for consumer products where the users don’t have be too specialized in terms of job role. It's become my secret weapon. So here's the breakdown of what I've learned and how to do it.
Step 1. Place an ad in Craigslist. It can be short and sweet. Put it in the gigs section that makes the most sense for what you are working on. If it's a high tech thing that requires early adopters (like the Alexa study I did) you should try the Computer Gigs. If you need to talk about shopping, try Domestic Gigs.
Step 2. Do NOT put a link to a screener survey in your ad. This is the kiss of death. And I'm speaking as someone who put ads in 10 markets and then watched them all be pulled one after the other. Sigh. Links tend to get your ads flagged for removal, even if they are as benign as this.
Step 3. When participants email you wanting to participate, send them a link to your screener survey. Really. People are happy to take the extra step. If you want to get really clever, use a dedicated email account so you can just send an autoresponse to every incoming email, sending them there. Within hours you will have participants, I promise.
Step 4. Use something like Google Forms for your screener that puts all the data into a spreadsheet automatically. It's so easy to just sort the spreadsheet and pull out exactly the users you want.
Step 5. Be smart about your screener! Be tricky. Don't reveal what you are looking for. Some people reeeeeallly want that gift card...they'll say anything to get into the study. Especially if your incentive is big.
Step 6. Make your incentive commensurate with the work. I try to keep it to a reasonable hourly rate and have found that people are perfectly happy to chat on the phone for 1/2 hour for as little as $10. If you haul them in for an actual test session, you'll need to pay more, but still a lot less than if you hired a recruiter.
Sound too good to be true? It's not.
As professionals, working in settings where users are hard to come by or where budgets for recruiting are small, this approach to recruiting can really increase your chances of finding the right people quickly. For students of UX working on class projects, it can increase your learning by putting you in touch with real world users...as well as increase the chance you get invited back to the Superbowl party next year.