Rethinking Incentives – Finding and Engaging Participants without Paying Incentives

Posted On: 07/11/19

By: Ilka Kuhagen   


A German start-up assigned IKM with a user analysis of their potential target group. The difficulty: as a start-up the client’s budget was tight, and they could not afford to pay any incentive to participants. Therefore, an alternative to the traditional incentive-based recruiting had to be applied to find respondents willing to participate for free.

Solution / Considerations

Social Media channels such as Facebook were used to recruit potential participants. Social media groups often center on common interests, so the research team joined social groups that potentially could be relevant to the study. An online community platform was used, allowing for full anonymity, and participants could enroll themselves using a link shared on social media.

A few key elements were essential for this kind of recruitment. First of all, establishing relationships based on transparency and trust is key. This would allow them to trust the study and the purpose and open up to the questions. Secondly, participants have to understand the reason for the research and what is expected of them so they can identify with the cause of the study. Thirdly, the participation process has to be kept very simple. The access to the study has to be straight forward and the process has to be as little complex as possible. Furthermore, all questions should be published up front so participants can see all that is expected of them. Asking them to come back for new questions might decrease the rate of participation.


The recruitment of non-paid participants takes more time and involvement from the researcher and is more challenging compared to getting incentive-based participants. However, the richness of data from those non-paid participants, without even probing them, was beyond expectations. The ease of use of the platform as well as full transparency for the participants proved key in establishing a relationship of trust.

Overall, participants did not participate for an incentive but to see a change. The answers of these participants were often more detailed, providing comprehensive pictures of specific situations. With an established trust relationship and without a financial motive, the recruited participants were willing to share more honest opinions and deeper insights.