Ryan Hagen is a PhD student at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology who has been using Ginger.io for his thesis research. As part of his project, he had to recruit 75 people from the Boston community (and beyond) to use the Ginger.io app for three months and contribute to his work. Using a variety of techniques, Ryan exceeded his recruitment goals. We asked him to share some of his tips for doing so, especially as online patient recruitment continues to be a hot topic. This is the second in a two part series on patient recruitment.
Ryan presenting at the Boston QS meetup
In my last post, I discussed using online social networks to recruit participants. This week, I wanted to cover reaching out to offline social networks as well.
Why colleges are a great resource for research recruitment:
- They are flooded with legal-aged people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds who have an abundance of time and use their phone like an appendage. They are also generally more motivated by the chance of winning a $50 gift card.
- They are an excellent source for finding enthusiastic special interest groups
- Most have a live-in community full of bulletin boards
- Some universities require participation in some form of research as part of their degree.
- There is a higher percentage of people invested in helping advance knowledge and science.
I sent out about 100 emails to college professors and directors of programs related to my research focus. This was accomplished by looking up a list of the top 50 Universities by size, then going to each of their directories on the web and creating a list of emails according to department. I told them a little about my study, asked if they would be willing to forward the email or post a flyer, and expressed gratitude for their consideration.
If you intend to do this, it is important that you send each email individually. Even if you use the exact same letter for all recipients, you will want to take the time to insert the person’s name at the top, which grabs their attention and makes them less likely to assume they are reading junk-mail. The other reason to send emails individually is that junk-mail filters often have settings that identify junk based on an unrecognized sender with multiple addresses.
Networking and Correspondence
Talk to anyone who will listen about your study, and find other researchers with similar goals. Print eye-catching business cards with scan-able QR codes linking potential participants to your enrollment page by scanning it with their phone. Always express gratitude for any amount of attention given to your pitch, and reply to all emails, even if the person indicates that they are unable to participate. There were a few individuals that fit this description during my recruitment, but they expressed interest in what I was studying and ended up playing significant roles as advertisers.
In all your outreach, be sure to know your audience and position your message accordingly. For instance, if you are an ambitious but struggling student, using “I/me/my” and making it clear you are doing most of your work independently may gain you sympathy and help. Conversely, when emailing people to ask them to share their personal data, using plural pronouns in your correspondence emails and ads (we/us/our instead of I/me/my) can increase comfort levels. It becomes clear you are working as part of a team, even if it’s just under the supervision of an advisor
These tips only scratch the surface of the many available resources for participant recruitment. Other possibilities include creating a website for your study, writing a blog about your topic, and recording/posting presentations or study related events. The more your study is represented on the web the more exposure you will get and the greater your chances will be for recruiting participants. If you have any questions about this article, participant recruitment or my smartphone mood study, feel free to shoot me an email at RyanLHagen.MA@gmail.com. Good luck!
Do you have other suggestions? Have you tried any of these techniques? Let us know by tweeting at @ginger_io!