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The secret to high-quality research participants

Hugh Carling

Hugh Carling


Co-founder of Liveminds. I love to bring like-minded people together. Whether that's growing businesses, running online communities, staging events or captaining my village cricket team, nothing makes me happier than seeing people with a shared passion, coming together and making the most of it.

I recently presented a paper on ‘The secret to high-quality participants’ to researchers at the MRS’s speaker evening. In case you missed it, check out this summary and download the full paper, including case studies.

Recruitment of high-quality market research participants is an important subject which doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Quality, representative participants are a vital ingredient to market research - every project depends on them.

The secret to high-quality participants outlines how social and advertising networks, such as Facebook, can help researchers find high-quality participants for any and every project.

Market Research's No.1 challenge

The GRIT Report 2017 Q3-Q4 revealed that access to quality and representative sample was the ‘single biggest challenge’, facing researchers and buyers, with a decline in quality and falling participation rates. According to the GRIT Report 2018 Q1-Q2 ‘39% of researchers surveyed expect sample quality to worsen over the next three years’ and that ‘fewer than a third of sample providers expect panel quality to get better’!

Research on Recruitment 2018

These statistics are shocking, but are not surprising to me. They're also not exclusive to quantitative research. Earlier this year, Liveminds commissioned Sketchbook Consulting to conduct Research on Recruitment 2018 and found much the same thing. Although the study focused on qualitative research recruitment, many of the concerns apply equally to quant research - since panels also use databases of repeat respondents.

Researchers told us that the most important factor in ‘effective recruitment’ is an accurate fit between sample and recruitment criteria. Speed and cost of the service – often assumed to be vital today – were deemed to be much less relevant.

We also explored the main challenges researchers face when recruiting for their projects. Interestingly, there was a difference between the perceived challenges of ‘traditional’ qual research (e.g. face-to-face groups and telephone interviews) and ‘digital’ qual (e.g. online communities and online focus groups).

What increases the risk of low-quality participants?

We believe there are three key systemic factors with the traditional database approach which increase the risk of low-quality participants.


In the past we’ve had to rely entirely on what the recruits say, not what they actually do. As behavioural science has shown us, memory is highly fallible.

  • More than half of researchers in the study believe too many participants lie to get recruited.
  • More than half also believe some recruiters encourage participants to lie.


We’re limiting ourselves to the same small pools of participants, rather than fishing in the vast oceans beyond them. This gives us a far smaller chance of finding people that genuinely match the criteria.

  • More than half of researchers said they had recognised the same people in different projects within the last 12 months


Repeat respondents become increasingly professional, are conditioned to the research process and no longer represent the views of real consumers.

The future of research participant recruitment

Taking a step back, the solution to these problems seems clear. Stop using databases of repeat respondents and find fresh participants, on demand, for every project.

We call our approach ‘Behavioural Recruitment’ because it’s powered by Facebook’s unparalleled data on what people have actually done, rather than what they claim they’ve done. Our unique Facebook app enables us to find and screen any of the 2.2 billion users in over 190 countries.

Behavioural Recruitment key benefits


Access over 100✕ more people than even the biggest quant panels, giving you a far better chance of finding the right people.


People who genuinely match your research criteria, who have been found based on real behavioural data.


People are typically fresh to research, meaning you’re getting the views of real consumers. who are truly engaged and enthusiastic about taking


We studied our online qual platform looking at more than 35 million English words, across a range of projects. We compared the responses of participants we recruited vs other participants - which included recruiters employed by a client base of nearly 200 companies. We found that our participants gave 47% more data than everyone else’s.

How can Behavioural Recruitment be used?

We’ve recruited this way in more than 65 countries already, for every kind of research from face-to-face focus groups, to quant studies, to placing automated cameras around family breakfast tables.


  • Online qual
  • Focus groups
  • Telephone IDIs
  • In-home interviews
  • Video vox pops
  • Shopper tasks
  • Ethnography


  • Consumer
  • B2B


The good news is that because this approach doesn’t require us to have or maintain any database of participants, the new legislation is easier for us to deal with than those using traditional recruitment methods. Once a given project is completed, we simply delete the participants’ data.

Applies to any social or ad network

This is not just about Facebook - our method and technology can be applied to all major social and advertising networks.

Download The secret to high-quality participants to find out more about the method and learn from practical examples how its been used for all kinds of research.

Download 'The secret to high-quality participants'

This paper outlines how social and advertising networks, such as Facebook, can help researchers find high-quality participants for any and every market research project.

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