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There are many ways to find the participant pools we need, from specialized services to social media, and even (gasp!) in person. By implementing a few different techniques and sampling from different pools, we can recruit participants with much more diverse demographics and surpass minimal sample sizes to provide statistical power to our research. Some methods might be perfectly suitable for a particular study whilst others could be absurdly ludicrous.
Important: Always seek advice and permission from your institutional review board or ethics committee before recruiting participants.
Anyway, enough preamble, let's get our brainstorming juices flowing.
Let's start with a sensible and sober approach. Participant recruitment services provide exactly what we need, as the name implies! However there are subtle differences in the features they provide (e.g. payment policies, prescreening questions and tasks, fraud detection) so be sure to know exactly what you want before jumping in.
Next up, recruit your colleagues and use your professional connections as a participant pool. Just be careful not to introduce any demand characteristics by using these methods.
What are friends, and distant associates for, right? Demographic diversity is likely to be much greater amongst your wider personal network than your professional network. Be aware that asking someone personally introduces social pressure which reduces the capacity of the person you're asking to exercise their free will and truly participate voluntarily. Always seek appropriate ethics permission before personally asking individuals to participate!
OK, let's knock up a few cards and start handing 'em out...
Crowdsourcing, micro tasks, micro jobs, and whatever other descriptors have pervaded the gig economy's vernacular to provide a real and/or perceived differentiation are another potentially viable source of participants. You're probably aware of Amazon's Mechanical Turk but there are others out there (e.g. Fiverr, Clickworker, ySense) however these services are aimed at consumer marketing so may not be appropriate for your particular study.
Traditional media enjoys a wide demographic reach, and due to the popularity of online advertising, costs are much lower than ever before. With the number and diversity of T.V. and radio channels these days, targeting a particular subgroup could be viable. So where can we advertise?
There are forums and newsgroups for every topic conceivable. If you're targeting a specific demographic chances are you'll find plenty of forums and groups dedicated to those people and interests. Some forums even allow you to advertise site-wide. Again, do not ask individuals directly because social pressure is unethical.
Almost the entire online surveyable population of the planet earth uses social media in one form or another. Give 'em a break from their fake news and celebrity gos with your highly engaging behavioral experiment.
And now every other miscellaneous method we can think of...
As you can see, there are umpteen unconventional ways to reach out to your audience. Obviously some methods mentioned in our ultimate list will work for some studies and not others. Some techniques might only work when placing your tongue in your cheek.
Mix and match a few different methods here to increase your sample size and demographic diversity and implement your very own multiple site entry technique to avoid the ill-effects of self selection. It's worth keeping in mind the complexity involved in conducting survey research and experiments online. Online behavioral research and participant recruitment presents many advantages to the researcher, but are also susceptible to unique problems. There are many techniques to work around and eliminate these limitations.
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