The Ultimate Guide to Research Recruitment Email Strategies
Email is an efficient and frequently used method for recruiting and communicating with your users throughout the cycle of a User Research study. While email can be extremely effective, it can also be difficult. This blog will help you confidently build email sequences tailored to your unique goals and Research needs. You’ll be equipped with tips, tools, and examples to ensure your emails lay the foundation for excellent User Research studies and help cultivate delightful participant experiences.
Read on to learn how to:
- build an email sequence
- craft winning subject lines
- increase response rates
- keep your emails from looking spammy
- leverage Rally to optimize your emails with branding, automations, and more
Laying the groundwork: Before you begin
Start with a solid foundation — plan enough time to recruit the number of participants necessary to reach your study’s N size. A good rule of thumb for how many people to email is to multiply the minimum number of participants needed by 5-10. Note: This range can vary dramatically based on factors like:
- if participants are part of an opted-in research panel (if so, likely higher response rates)
- if participants are recently churned users unhappy with your product/service (if so, likely lower response rates)
- the size of your ask (if it’s a big ask, likely lower response rates)
- if you’re offering an incentive (incentives can lead to higher response rates)
- your brand affinity among your users (more brand affinity can lead to higher response rates)
When building your outreach list, ensure that the individuals you target align with your study's requirements — tools like Rally can streamline this process by keeping your contacts organized using well-curated segments and filters and your outreach strategies targeted (more on this below).
Your recruitment email checklist
Here’s what goes into sending out emails for recruiting participants for studies:
- Define your participant pool: Be selective. The quality of your research depends on the relevance of your participants. Ensure the individuals you're reaching out to align with your research needs.
- Craft your outreach email: The initial email is your first impression — make it count. Frame your study as an opportunity for users to express their opinions and impact a product they use.
- Gauge responses and adapt: Monitor your initial email's performance. If the response is lower than expected, prepare for a second wave of outreach.
- Send out confirmations, scheduling details, and reminders: Reminder emails nudge participants to fulfill their commitment and can significantly decrease no-shows.
- Incentivize participation: Depending on the study's extent and nature, incentives can boost response and participation rates.
- Thank your participants: Sending a thank-you email not only builds a positive and delightful Participant Experience but also opens the door for future research opportunities.
Quite the list, right? This could easily take up a chunk of your precious time, luckily many of these tasks can be automated and optimized with Rally (something we’ll dig into further down). For now, we’re going to explore some of these tasks more in depth and share tips, tricks, and best practices to increase the success of your outreach.
How to build an email sequence
First, what is an email sequence? An email sequence is a series of prewritten, automated emails sent to users or study participants over a period of time, typically triggered by a specific event, with the aim of gathering feedback, maintaining engagement, or guiding them through a particular process.
Your recruitment email sequence is a journey. Each email, from your initial outreach to your thank-you note, plays a unique role in driving participant engagement. The first step before mapping out your email sequence is to identify and understand the goals and methodology of your study. There is a lot of variability in email sequences since no two studies are exactly the same.
Despite this, there are still many elements of an email sequence that are standard and repeatable — and perfect for leveraging templates. By using templates, you can ensure consistency and efficiency, a topic we'll discuss more in our section on automation.
“When you use a template, don’t forget to add a level of customization. It doesn’t have to be major nor do you need to necessarily edit it for every different send. Just something simple that humanizes the emails a little so they don’t sound so robotic/generic,” said Caitlin Faughnan, UX Research Operations Coordinator at GitLab, Inc.
Although your specific email sequence will be unique to your study, there is value in exploring example sequences.
Here is a typical 1-1 interview recruitment email flow:
- Email 1: Study Invitation — The goal is to pique interest, establish credibility, outline the benefits of participating, and prompt action — namely, filling out a screener survey, or going directly to scheduling an interview.
- Email 2: Follow-up Attempt — When initial responses are low, this email reiterates the invitation and benefits.
- Email 3a: Response to Interested Participants — Express appreciation and notify the participant that they qualified for the interview based on their screener responses.
- Email 3b: Response to Not Qualified Participants — Express appreciation and explain that they were not selected for the study.
- Email 4: Confirmation — Provide all necessary details for the research session.
- Email 5: Reminder — A friendly nudge can enhance show rates.
- Email 6: Thank-You & Incentive — Show gratitude, detail the incentive, and extend an invitation for future studies, updates, or panels.
Let’s break down each one.
Email 1: Invitation to fill out a study survey
GOAL: Get user to open and respond
This email will be the most important one you send. It likely is the first encounter the recipient has with your User Research practice — or even User Research in general. It’s important to set clear expectations up front and early in this email. “The participant should know why exactly why they were contacted,” said Danielle Cleaver in our ebook, The Definitive Guide to Participant Management and Recruitment. Liron Blum, Product Coordinator at Gong, said this email should be focused on the goal you want to achieve. “What are you aiming to understand from the conversation? What would be a successful outcome?”
Here’s what you clearly and simply explain in your email:
- research topic / product or feature being tested
- time commitment
- methodology (survey, interview, unmoderated usability study, etc.)
- incentive type and amount
- what user will gain from joining (other than incentive)
- why this user has been chosen to participate
Additionally, you can include sample questions the user may encounter if they chose to participate. These could be helpful to give a clearer idea of what the participant should expect, though there may be times where this doesn’t work for the purpose or needs of the study.
The contents of your email must convince the user that you are a real, trusted person from your organization, that they can benefit greatly from participating, and that they should take action (i.e. fill out a screener).
Email 2: Follow-up attempt
GOAL: Get user to open and respond
If initial responses are lower than expected, the follow-up email serves as your second chance. It's an opportunity to reiterate the invitation, reinforce the benefits, and remind potential participants of the importance of their contribution. Timing for this message can depend on various factors, such as the nature of the study and initial response rates, but generally, anywhere from 2-7 days after the first email could be a suitable window.
Email 3a: Response to interested participants
GOAL: Thank user and get them to schedule their interview
Upon receiving positive responses, your next email should express appreciation and provide further details on the next steps. This is crucial for building rapport and maintaining the interest of your participants. Keep the tone warm, appreciative, and inclusive to continue fostering a sense of value for their contribution to the study.
Email 3b: Response to participants who fill out a screener and aren’t selected
GOAL: Thank user and notify of status for participation
“People don’t think about the folks who fill out a screener and aren’t selected,” said Danielle. This email should go to anyone who filled out the screener and wasn’t a good fit for your study. Make sure to close the loop by thanking them and explaining that they weren’t a good fit or that they won’t be needed for this particular study. Danielle recommends letting them know you’ll keep them in mind for future research opportunities. “Make sure to be gracious,” she said, “It matters in the long run."
Email 4: Confirmation
GOAL: Share important meeting details
This email should provide all necessary details for the upcoming research session—time, platform, duration, and any preparation needed. The goal is to eliminate any potential confusion or obstacles that could prevent participation. Krista Lipps, a Senior UX Researcher at Doximity, recommends sending a confirmation email with instructions for the session 24-48 hours in advance.
Email 5a-c: Reminder
GOAL: Remind user of upcoming meeting
Your users are busy and can forget. Liron recommends sending a maximum of two reminders, one 2-3 days before the interview and one a few hours before the start of the interview. “We don’t want to create the potential for a cancellation, so it’s important to consider that when determining the number of reminders.”
You can also determine the number of reminders based on how frequently folks no-show. Another example is to send three reminders 24 hours, 1 hour, and 5 minutes before the scheduled session.
Another way to determine timing on reminders is to base it off the action requested. Caitlin said they’ll send a reminder typically 48 hours before if they are asking the recipient to complete a screener they’ve started. “If it’s someone who has already filled in a screener and we are looking to get a session booked in with them, we may send an email reminder within 48 hours, if it’s a particularly niche participant, we will send one more reminder within 48 hours of the last reminder before moving on.”
A friendly reminder email serves as a nudge to reinforce their commitment. It can significantly enhance the likelihood of participation and ensure that your participants feel informed and appreciated.
Email 6: Thank you & incentive
GOAL: Express thanks, give incentive, and keep engaged
The sequence closes with an expression of gratitude and the incentive, if you’ve chosen to offer one. If you’re giving an incentive, this email should explain the specifics of how participants can claim whatever you’ve offered. Additionally, a thank-you email helps cultivate a positive, delightful participant experience and opens the door for future research engagements. Consider inviting them to join a panel or offering to keep them updated on the research results, underlining the value of their contribution.
The art of crafting compelling subject lines
The subject line is the first thing your user will see and often can determine whether your email gets opened or ignored. Crafting compelling subject lines that are concise, clear, and appealing to your users is well worth your time.
Here are 4 things that are important to consider when creating subject lines:
- Brevity & clarity: Many email platforms truncate subject lines that are too long — studies have shown 41 characters or 7 words is ideal, with the absolute max being 70 characters (the cut-off point for Gmail users). You want to ensure that your user understands the point of your email and the action being requested without having to open it. “We call out if something is a survey or a sign-up for a user interview in our email subject lines to make them easily identifiable,” said Caitlin.
- Action-oriented language: Use strong verbs to prompt action. Try to incorporate a tone of excitement that will hopefully make your user curious and interested. However, there is a fine line between excited and spammy. Utilizing colleagues in the brainstorming process can help. “If something requires an action such as booking a time or a response regarding incentives, we include Action Required at the start of our email subject line to try and get folks to respond and realize that it’s not just an automatic reply,” said Caitlin.
- Personalization: Incorporating the user’s name or referring to a specific product or feature they use can make your email stand out in an often overflowing inbox. For example, a subject line “Help improve [product/feature], [First name]” could be more compelling than a generic invitation to a research study.Now, who has the time to personalize 500 email subject lines in Gmail? crickets chirping You can use Rally to set up your email template and send personalized emails to hundreds (even thousands) of your users at once.
- Incentive amount: Making it clear in the subject line what the tangible incentive is that your user could receive for participating can greatly increase response rates. If you are offering a gift card, make the exact cash amount clear as numbers stand out.
Building the body of your invite email
Though the body of every email is important, there are two that require the most time and effort: the invitation and the thank you. This section will specifically give guidance for the invitation email, though these tips can easily be used for any email you send to participants.
The body of your invitation email should include essential details about the study along with compelling reasons why the user has been chosen and should choose to participate. A difficult challenge is keeping your email short enough to retain your user’s attention but long enough to share the necessary information.
Below are a few things you should aim to accomplish in the first email:
You want the user to trust and believe you. “It’s important to associate research with real people,” said Danielle. “Users should know they are interacting with an actual human and be primed for the experience of participating in the study.” Here are some things you can do to accomplish this:
- Introduce yourself and specify your role.
- Outline your role and goals as a researcher (i.e. understand needs of user and improve product/service).
- Provide multiple types of contact information and include links to the researcher’s LinkedIn or other social media.
- Put faces to names by having updated profile pictures for all researchers.
- Use your org’s branding wherever possible (we’ll dive into this more below).
Use persuasive language as well as things like incentives to entice your user to participate, here are some tips for encouraging participation:
- Illustrate the benefits of participating in your study.
- Offer tangible incentives like gift cards, free product, or exclusive access to features. Research ahead of time what type of incentives may appeal to your user and tailor what you offer to them.
- Highlight intangible benefits like the ability to influence product development or have their voice and opinions heard.
Personalize and customize
This can help improve open rates, establish credibility, and help begin to build a strong relationship between your user and you (along with the Research function at your org). Try the following:
- Tailor your language and tone to match your users’ communication style.
- Include specific details about the recipient, like their usage habits or preferences (when known and when appropriate).
- Offer an incentive that makes sense for your user.
- Use first names when possible.
- Be mindful of users’ culture and location (when known).
Include a clear CTA
Your user should be able to skim your email and know exactly what you’re asking them to do. Here are some tips for choosing a CTA:
- Be specific and clearly state what action the user should do (e.g. Fill out survey, Register for study, etc.).
- Highlight the benefits. Before you have your main action-focused CTA, explain again what the user will gain by acting on your CTA.
- Make it stand out by creating a visually distinctive CTA. This can be done through size, color, placement, or by using a button.
- Create urgency by using phrases like “limited spots available” or “sign up today” to encourage the user to respond quickly.
- Use first person language to help the user feel personally connected. For example, you could use language like “Yes, I want to participate!”
How to tackle low response rates
Low response rates can be disheartening. Along with sending out second attempt emails, described above, here are several strategies that can help you tackle low response rates:
- Seek feedback from colleagues: Fresh eyes may offer insights into improving your approach. It’s also good practice to have someone else review any email you’re sending.
- A/B testing: Experiment with different subject lines, body content, or CTAs to determine what resonates best with your audience.
- Reassess your target list: A different group of users might be more responsive.
- Leverage cross-functional partners: They can introduce you to potential participants within their network. Keep them looped into what you’re working on so they can keep an eye out for users they think would be great participants.
- Adjust incentives: A more attractive incentive might spur greater interest.
- Utilize current participants: Satisfied participants might be willing to recommend others. You can reach out to current participants in a new email or also include language in your thank-you email about referring others.
How to make your communications not look like spam
With every email you send, you run the risk of your users thinking it may be spam and not trusting what is being sent. Caitlin shared some tips on how to make communications not look like spam:
- Add in extra verbiage that doesn’t feel robotic or computer-generated so emails don’t all look the same and can feel more personalized.
- Give a personal email for users to reach out to with questions once they’re participating in a live study.
- Explain why a participant is receiving this email (e.g. you were identified as X through product usage).
- Send test emails.
- Have a reviewer for every email.
- Keep subject lines uniform and consistent (this will help users begin to become familiar with your Research function and recognize when emails come from the researcher).
- Ensure all communication comes directly from the researcher conducting the study (which could be you or if you are recruiting for someone else, make sure communication comes from them).
The role of branding in recruitment emails
Branding helps increase trust, recognition, and engagement. A well-branded email can reassure the user that the email is coming from a trusted source. Use your org’s brand fonts, colors, and logo wherever possible. Additionally, make how and where you use colors and your org’s logo consistent. This will help foster recognition and build a strong relationship between your user and your Research function.
Branded vs. plain text emails
Plain text emails are emails that only include text — no images, graphics, layouts, formatting, etc. Branded emails include different colors, branded logos, font size variation, etc.
What are the pros and cons of using each?
“I always prefer to send plain text because it feels much more authentic and real rather than the email being sent by a bot,” said Liron. “When I send an incentive after the interview, I do sometimes use a branded email, but it is important to me that they understand that the email is personal and not automatic.”
The choice between plain text vs. branded emails depends on your users, resources, and goals. Like Liron mentioned, one solution would be to strike a balance between the two — use branded emails when visual impact and branding is crucial and plain text for more personalized, direct communication. Caitlin and her team at GitLab send branded emails for screener invites “to try and build trust and show it’s a genuine request,” she said. Plain text emails are sent out for following up for scheduling or when a researcher is emailing participants directly. "Generally, if it’s a bulk send, it will be branded,” she said. “If it’s an individual send, it will be a plain text email.”
As you can see, there are many options to explore when it comes to sending branded and plain emails. One of the best things to do is to test each out, which will give you a better sense of what works for your specific users and needs.
When and how often should you send emails?
Timing and frequency can be challenging when it comes to sending emails, especially when the people you’re sending emails to are your valuable, real users. Timing refers to the specific days and times that you choose to send out emails. When determining timing, consider your users’ time zones and schedules. For example, if your users are doctors, their schedules will be much different than truck drivers, college students, or sales leaders. As you send out emails, you’ll also be able to test certain times and get a sense of what times work better than others.
Frequency is about how often you send emails. While frequent emails might help you stay top of mind, it can also annoy your users. On the flip side, less frequent emails have a lower risk of annoying your user but may also be forgotten or buried in overflowing inboxes. See the dilemma?
Unfortunately there is no clear, right answer. Like timing, the frequency of your emails is largely dependent upon your specific users, the nature of your research, and the response to your initial emails. “I try not to send an email to the same user for a period of 3-4 months,” said Liron. “Think about yourself — if you received an email that is not necessarily relevant to you every few weeks, wouldn't it be annoying? It may be that once every few months, I will be able to ‘hit’ exactly the needs of this user and the chances that they will be interested will be higher.”
Ultimately, Liron hits on an important point — be mindful of the thin line between persistent and pushy. The last thing you want to do is over-contact users and in turn burn bridges and tarnish the reputation and brand of both your org and your Research practice.
One tool that can greatly help you as you send out Research emails is a CRM. While emails require a fair amount of TLC and hands-on work, once you’ve done the hard part, you can utilize Rally’s User Research CRM automation and template features to save hours of time you would have spent copying, pasting, and manually sending out and tracking individual emails.
The benefits of automation in Research emails
The entire User Research process is riddled with manual work, though the recruitment process nearly takes the cake for leading to hours of manual tasks that take you away from more important things like talking to your users.
Here’s what you can do by introducing automation into your entire Research study email process:
- Set up your email sequence and have it sent out at the right time to the right people.
- Enable consistent communication by using templates of the emails in your sequence.
- Create timely follow-ups to boost response rates.
Automation can greatly benefit you, but it’s important to not let automation reduce the personalization in your emails. Customize your templates to match your tone and language and still include personalized details to keep emails engaging and relevant.
General best practices for email communications
Though many elements of your emails will be specific to User Research, it’s also important to consider and follow more general email strategies that can enhance the effectiveness of your communication. Here are some general email tips and tricks to follow:
- Use bullet points, headings, and short paragraphs to make your emails easier to read.
- Optimize your emails for mobile devices.
- Use A/B testing to identify the most effective strategies and if possible, explore analytics to understand your audience’s behavior and preferences.
- Maintain consistent branding, tone, and frequency in your emails to foster familiarity and trust (Rally’s automation capabilities and branding options can help with this!).
- Always double-check your emails for clarity, grammar, and spelling errors before sending. Errors can harm your credibility and may confuse your user. Within Rally, you can preview the email and send yourself a test email.
- Be aware of, and comply with, regulations like GDPR and the CAN-SPAM Act. For example, include your org’s physical address in your email and offer an easy way to opt-out.
These tips can lay an even stronger foundation for your communication strategy. By pairing them with elements and tactics specific to User Research and your own goals, you can build a strong and effective email recruitment process.
Enhance your User Research recruitment email strategy with Rally
Rally’s User Research CRM can be a powerful tool to streamline and optimize your email process with its email automation, templates, and personalization capabilities. Learn more about Rally's User Research CRM today by booking a demo.