You can find participants for your online survey for free by the following methods: (1) your own network, (2) using Facebook groups for survey exchanges, (3) survey exchange platforms, like surveyswap.io and (4) finding sponsors that also benefit from your study.
Find Survey Participants Online for Free
You started your thesis or market research, your survey is set, but now you need people to fill the forms. You’ve reached out to your network through Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and, Instagram. After two days of hard work, exactly 12 people responded to your sincere call for help. Three days later, you’ve got 15. Great, only 135 left to go…
What you will learn
Quick ways to find participants through
1. Your own network
2. Active facebook groups
3. Online platforms like SurveySwap
1. Your own network
“Bothering friends and family”
First off, we generally discourage this option as a primary source of respondents. Sure, you should use it because it's the low hanging fruit. But usually, only your primary group of friends and family will respond to your survey (unless you are an influencer, lucky you).
The reason we discourage it has to do with time-to-reward ratio. It might take you more time to beg others to fill out your survey, then to pursue other option we will discuss later in this article. If your survey is short (<2 minutes) this method can still be effective.
When you do it, a good way to make this method more successful is to incentivize people. Consider raffling a price like an Amazon coupon over your participants.
Another thing that might seem silly, but has shown to get up to 83% more response is to include an image. The image should evoke empathy, for instance, puppy eyes or 'puss in boots pout' GIFs (see image) always do the trick. Besides that, it always helps to use a touching image that stands out, when posting on Facebook, Instagram etc.
Mention Survey Length (or not).
If your survey is short, you should emphasize the number of minutes it takes to fill out your survey in the post, for example: "Only takes 1 minute!".
In case of a longer survey, it might be wiser to apply the ‘Ignorance is bliss’-philosophy. All you can do is hope people feel the urge to finish what they started!
Don’t take it personally if your friends don't .jump to your rescue. No one likes filling out surveys without getting anything in return. Unless you’re a famous Instagram ‘influencer’, you’ll be disappointed by this method.
What methods are better and faster to find survey participants?
2. Posting in Facebook groups
There are facebook groups specially designed for exchanging surveys. It comes down to filling out each other's surveys. “You fill out mine and I’ll fill out yours.”
Everyone in these kinds of groups is looking for participants, just like you.
Four characteristics of Facebook groups
- The number of people that post without filling out others’ survey isn’t that bad. Based on personal experience, approximately 50% also fills out your survey (using 5-minute survey)
- If your survey exceeds 5-minutes, the chance that people bail on you increases. Be honest, if your survey takes 2 minutes, you wouldn’t waste 30 minutes of someone else’s.
- A limited number of active participants. A fair estimate would be somewhere between 5 and 8 participants a day, but that’s not exactly a home run.
- You have to fill out other people’s surveys.
One big advantage
In general, it’s an easy way to quickly accumulate a reasonable number of participants.
Advice for the use of facebook groups:
The same rules apply as the post you would send to your own network. Use a picture that stands out. A sad-looking cat or dog with a text like ‘help me graduate’ can do wonders. It sounds silly, but it’s very effective.
Other people that are looking for participants will mention in the comments section of your post that they did your survey. You’ll always want to double check, which is easy because their name is visible on Facebook.
As soon as you filled out someone else’s survey, you can comment about your accomplishment accompanied by a link to your survey. Unfortunately, this requires following up, because your fellow students tend to be rather forgetful. If you choose the ‘reply’ button, the original post owner will receive a notification and pay more attention to your comment.
Finding appropriate Facebook groups
You can find these groups by searching for ‘surveyswap’ or ‘participants wanted’. You get the gist. In the description of the group, it should say something like: ‘this group is for students who help each other with surveys’. If you speak multiple languages, it’s convenient to search for groups in those languages as well. Take into consideration that it might take a day or two to be admitted to the group.
Here are two active Facebook groups with reactive admins:
3. Use SurveySwap.io
SurveySwap.io is an online platform that operates according to the same philosophy as facebook groups ‘you do mine, I do yours’, but there are some major advantages. It provides free accounts.
Three major advantages:
- No discrepancies in survey duration.
- It’s impossible to cheat.
- You don’t have to waste energy double checking if someone actually did your survey.
Surveys that take longer than 5 minutes are usually discarded through facebook groups. Your sense of guilt/responsibility has to be really strong to make you do a survey that takes 30 minutes to fill out, especially if yours is way shorter.
The SurveySwap system assigns points (or credits) according to a survey’s duration.
To illustrate how the system works
You create a survey that only takes a minute to fill out and post it on SurveySwap. Subsequently, you fill out someone else’s survey, which takes you 5 minutes. The system will now ensure that 5 people fill out your survey. The only thing you need to do to find all the participants that you need, is repeat this set of steps!
How many surveys do you need to fill out?
Take this calculation as an example:
Let’s say your survey takes 5 minutes to fill out and requires 80 participants.
It would take you 5 x 80 = 400 minutes to find to acquire the participants you need. That translates into approximately 6.7 hours, less than a day of work. It may seem like a lot of time, but students before you often spent months finding their participants.
How do you get started?
1. Go to surveyswap.nl and set up an account. Make sure you choose the language that our fluent in, otherwise you’ll be assigned to surveys that you don’t understand.
2. Next, you have to choose:
Either you upload the survey that you previously made on Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Google Forms etc. or you make the questionnaire through SurveySwap.
3. Fill out the required information about your survey and SurveySwap will calculate how many surveys you need to do, like in the example above. If you don’t fill out other people’s surveys, your survey won’t be visible for others.
4. If you choose to upload a survey from e.g. Qualtrics on SurveySwap, don’t forget to add your unique SurveySwap link at the end of your questionnaire. Otherwise, the system doesn’t recognize you and might automatically delete your account.
4. Find sponsors for your research
If you’re a bit entrepreneurial, this is a fun way to quickly find participants for free. However, it can be quite challenging. This approach requires dedication and strongly depends on whether your research is relevant and profitable for companies. I would only recommend this method if you need more than 300 participants. For less than that it’s not worth your trouble. It can be quite an energy consuming task to find the appropriate sponsorship and close the deal.
It all depends on your choice of study and research subject
While doing my university degree I did two specializations: Occupational- and Organisational Psychology and NeuroScience. It was way easier to find a sponsor for my thesis in Organisational Psychology than NeuroScience.
How do you find a sponsor?
You can start by laying out proposals to your student counselor, professor, supervisor, examiner or service desk. Even if they can’t help you, they might refer you to someone who can.
If the university doesn’t want to sponsor you
Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to get university sponsorships, so you have to get creative and come up with a different solution.
There are roughly 2 alternative ways, which you can easily combine:
1. Find companies that would be interested in being mentioned in your survey. For example: if you’re researching brand appreciation, reach out to a brand that you can involve in your research. Your survey will be a form of advertisement that they might be willing to pay for. The money you earn from ads can be used for buying participants at databases, like respondetendatabase.nl.
2. Find companies that have a strong affinity for students. Companies like HUSK (skiing trips) or popular festivals would perfectly fit this category. You could raffle their merchandise or service to attract respondents for your survey.
A student’s example
“I had to find 500 respondents for my survey and my university didn’t offer any help. I was researching brain activation and expected to find results that would scientifically support meditation. Therefore, I started looking for companies involved in meditation. After ringing several parties, I found three enthusiastic companies! They shared my survey with their clientele, without success, but paid a few hundred euros! All in exchange for mentioning them in my survey. I then approached an agency that delivered 500 filled out surveys within a few days.”
If there is one thing that you can learn from this example, it’s that it can be easy, but you have to be smart about it.
All the methods mentioned in this article can be used to find participants. It’s probably best to try all of them. If you need more than 300 participants it’s strongly advised to find sponsors. Otherwise, your social network, active Facebook groups and SurveySwap will probably suffice!
Take into consideration that the cheapest option isn’t always the best one, because it might cost more time and energy. If you have generous parents or a well-paying part-time job, you can always look at the costlier options. For more information about finding participants through payments, check out our other articles.