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A lot of people ask whether offering some sort of incentive for people to participate in a study will bias the results. The answer is, "not if done correctly." So, let's look at how to do it correctly.
Why You Offer an Incentive
The reason to offer an incentive is that other people's time has value. This is especially true if you're trying to recruit people who get paid hourly or on commission, but almost everybody is more willing to offer their time in return for something.
The other reason to offer an incentive is that your time has value. The more people who respond to your initial request for participants, the less time you'll have to spend begging people to be in your study.
In fact, there are only a few times that I don't offer an incentive. The first is if I have plenty of people willing to give me feedback for free. This sometimes happens if I'm getting feedback from people I know through work or in my personal life. Even then, I'll sometimes offer to take them to lunch or for coffee in exchange for feedback.
The other time I don't offer an incentive is when the participants simply can't accept them, obviously. There are several professions where people are not allowed to accept any kind of compensation for their time, so make sure you're not dealing with one of them before offering an incentive.
How Much Incentive to Offer
The amount that you offer can vary wildly, from a free coffee to hundreds of dollars. It doesn't even have to be a monetary incentive. Frequently, when I want feedback on content (like this guide), I'll offer free or early access to a few people in exchange for feedback.
If you have a product that people would pay for, consider offering some of the product as incentive. Be aware that if you do this, you're more likely to get people who are already predisposed to like your product, so take feedback with that in mind.
For most tests, you're going to offer some amount of cash or a gift card to someplace like Amazon. The amount you offer will likely vary, depending on how difficult your participants are to recruit. I've included a table with suggested starting incentives, but you may need to increase them if you don't get the kind of response you would like. And, of course, if you are overwhelmed with responses (you probably won't be), you can always offer less.
In Person Lab Study: 60 minutes
|Normal Consumer (easy recruit)||$75|
|Business Person (moderate recruit)||$125|
|C -Level (difficult recruit)||$200 or something non-cash that would appeal to the person more.|
In Person Home or Office Study: 90 minutes
|Normal Consumer (easy recruit)||$125|
|Business Person (moderate recruit)||$150|
|C-Level (difficult recruit)||$200 or something non-cash that would appeal to the person more.|
Remote Study by Phone or Screenshare: 60
|Normal Consumer (easy recruit)||$25|
|Business Person (moderate recruit)||$75|
|C-Level (difficult recruit)||$150 or something non-cash that would appeal to the person more.|
In Person Guerrilla Study in a Coffee Shop: 10 minutes
Offer to buy participants a coffee or pastry or some other appropriate item, depending on the place you're running the study. You don't really need to offer different things to different types of participants, although you may find participants more easily in certain types of coffee shops than others.
Online Survey: 10 minutes
Let the respondents enter to win a $100 gift card. Although, I will take a moment to say that this shouldn't be the only kind of qualitative testing you're doing!
Focus Groups: 60 minutes
Never run focus groups. I mean it. I'm ashamed that you're even reading this section. You should know better.
How Does an Incentive Affect Feedback?
One of the things I hear a lot is the concern that offering $25 for somebody to give feedback will affect the feedback itself. I've done hundreds of user sessions, both with and without incentives, and I've found that this just hasn't been true.
However you can always take some precautions to make sure that there's no impact:
Why Does This Matter?
Offering the right incentive for a study can vastly improve your response rate and cut down on the time it takes you to recruit. Your time has value! Don't spend it trying to convince people to talk to you when offering a $25 gift card might make your job easier.