Earlier this year, James Diggle of Dig Fieldcraft came to us with a cracking idea for a training project.
The idea: A mock short-term online community with freelance market research recruiters acting as participants.
The plan: By seeing the process through the eyes of a participant, recruiters should have more empathy for participants – along with a better understanding of the recruitment/research experience.
The end goal: Higher quality recruitment for online communities.
And so the Razor-Dig dream team was born! James rounded up the troops while we focussed on the research design and community structure. We ran the community for 3 days, with everything set up as if it were a real FMCG project for a client – including tasks that real community participants would have to complete.
At the end we gave them an open-ended questionnaire to complete. This gave us rich insight into a) what recruiters understand the purpose of online communities to be, b) common issues they face when recruiting this methodology, and c) new learnings that emerged from having taken part in a community themselves.
From this feedback we created a ‘best practice’ checklist for online community recruiters to bear in mind and submitted a joint paper to the AQR – who then invited us to speak at this year’s AQR Conference as part of a panel focussing on recruitment issues!
And here are our seven tips from recruiters for successful online communities:
1. Know your timings
It’s easy to misjudge timings when creating task-based projects for participants to complete independently. It’s also tempting to downplay task length and how long you think it might take a respondent to complete one of your exercises.
Takeaway: Think harder (and longer) about how long your tasks will take. Overestimate where possible.
2. Be mindful of potentially controversial tasks (i.e. selfie videos)
Auto-ethnography is such a valuable asset to have in our toolkit. But without a skilled moderator there ‘in the flesh’ to help build trust, participants might become uncomfortable by tasks involving selfie videos for example.
Takeaway: Participants should be told beforehand if they will be required to take photos and videos of themselves.
3. Beware of undeclared extras
Exercises that involve buying something, any kind of excursion, spending time with or taking photos of friends/family almost always mean additional time, strain, and cost for participants.
Takeaway: If you have any unusual extras in your tasks, set your expectations with participants beforehand! It’s only fair that they’re aware of the level of contribution expected from them.
4. Be tech savvy
Not all participants will have laptops, webcams, or mobiles with the latest operating system. Recruiters occasionally find out – after participants have been recruited – that the project cannot go ahead without specific technical requirements like this.
Takeaway: Find out about the technical requirements of the platform(s) you’ll be using and communicate it clearly to field and potential recruits.
5. Plan for spam
Email spam systems are an easily forgotten vulnerability for logistical hiccups. All sorts of problems could occur if participants are not appropriately warned about what emails to expect and how to appropriately manipulate their spam settings.
Takeaway: Understand the notification system of the platform you’re using and teach participants how to add the email address to their email provider’s ‘white list’.
6. It’s good to talk
With many modern recruitment techniques, it is possible to get through much of the process online. Due to all the potential controversies mentioned above, we must be extra careful that participants have actually read the description and are fully happy and prepared to take part in projects.
Takeaway: Always have a thorough screening call with potential participants to ensure we have their full, informed consent.
7. Provide a clear definition of an online community
‘Online community’ is a relatively new and very nebulous term. It can mean a variety of different techniques and has a variety of uses within research. If we don’t explain to recruiters what it is we really mean by it, they may struggle describing this to potential recruits. (And the recruiters told us that they are rarely provided with such an explanation.)
Takeaway: Give recruiters a couple of sentences which they can use to succinctly explain, to potential participants, what an online community is.
(A summary of Razor & Dig Fieldcraft’s submission to the AQR Conference 2017: 7 Tips from recruiters for successful online communities.)