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 circle of friends and family 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…
The 4 Best Ways Find Survey Participants for Free
1. Leveraging your own network (tips included)
2. Facebook Survey exchange groups (2 links to active groups)
3. Online platforms like SurveySwap.io (yup that's us, but we're pretty awesome)
4. Sponsors (Much better than all 3 above in certain circumstances, we're also honest)
Don't skip any of the 4, because they can all work depending on your situation.
Leverage your social circle
(More than just asking friends and family)
Of course, you start by asking your friends, fellow students, and family members to fill out your survey. It's a bit tougher when you have more specific demographic criteria for your survey, like for instance: 'Baby boomers that use Instagram' - not that I know any of those. But as long as you can do a so-called 'convenience sample', this strategy can work.
A more effective way of using your social circle to get respondents is to actively ask them to share your survey on their Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or whatever social medium is hip with the cool kids these days. The point is, they have to share it.
I know what you're thinking...
"...but isn't that harassing friends?"
Yup, it totally is. But you can make it worth their while by doing a raffle.
Doing a raffle / give-away
The best practice is by Including a prize people really want but usually wouldn't buy for themselves. Everyone can think of amazon coupons, but you could be thinking creatively. If you know your friends well, they might be into certain things which you can tailor your prize to. For instance, you could get tickets to a really cool concert or festival, a wellness center or spa that you really like.
I understand your budget might be low, but time = money. Calculate for yourself if it's worth getting 100 respondents in a week by spending 45 dollars/euros on a concert, or spend 4 weeks getting only 15 respondents and having a big headache every day.
Unlock your inner creativity, spend a little money and go for it!
The post on social media
It might seem silly, but has shown to get up to 83% more response is to include an image. Making it funny and stand out.
This boomer GIF used to work very well a few years ago. But again, be creative.
Include a video of yourself
"OMG", "Are you out of your mind?", "I'm not gonna record a video".
I know, I know.
Nobody (except for maybe some annoying influencers) likes to see a video of themselves, let alone spread it. But this works magic!
Include a little video of yourself talking about your survey. This makes it easier for your friends to share, and also helps the friends of your friends understand who they are doing a favor. Mentioning what they can win (the raffle, remember?) can give a great boost to how much response you get.
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 the 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 loves to spend their precious free time filling out surveys.
Facebook Survey Filling / Sharing / Exchange Groups
In case you didn't know, you can get free survey respondents by participating in survey filling groups on Facebook. These groups were specially created to exchange surveys between people. It's an exchange of favors: “You fill out my survey and I’ll fill out yours.”
Everyone in these kinds of groups is looking for participants, just like you.
Where can you find Survey Filling Groups?
Here's a handy list of surveys filling groups on Facebook:
|Language||Link to survey filling group|
Tips for the use of survey filling groups on Facebook
If your survey is written in English, you can try all 4 groups, if not, you can only use the group with that particular language.
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 fill out someone else’s survey, you can comment on 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.
Drawbacks of survey filling groups
It's great that people started these groups, but there are some drawbacks.
- When you fill out other people's survey, only 50% fills out yours (using a 5-minute survey).
- If your survey exceeds 5-minutes, this approach gets drastically less effective.
- It's quite hard to track who answered your survey, and who didn't yet
- You have to fill out a lot of surveys
- The groups appear big with thousands of people, but generally, only 20 on a thousand are active on a daily basis.
- Take into consideration that it might take days to be admitted to the group.
Yep, that's us! I know that I'm blatantly advertising our company, but we started this company when we were students to solve the same problem: "How to find survey participants for free?"
Fast forward a few years, and SurveySwap has helped more than 250K students get survey respondents for free, by helping each other.
SurveySwap.io is an online platform that operates according to the same philosophy as the Facebook exchange groups: "I scratch your back, you scratch mine".
Advantages of SurveySwap.io
- Better data quality
- A fair exchange between long and short surveys
- A much bigger pool of respondents (45,000+ active users, in 2021)
- One place to get all your respondents
- You don’t have to waste energy double-checking if someone actually did your survey.
- Start right away
How does SurveySwap work?
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.
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.io 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. Connect your survey. It doesn't much where you made it. We support Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, and many more. Just make sure you can edit the 'thank-you page'. We will give you a unique code to track completions.
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 to others.
What's the catch?
There's no catch, we are committed to keeping the platform free for students. To be 100% transparent, we keep the lights on and bread on the table because of students or other researchers with a little more budget, who would rather pay than fill out surveys.
Let's move on to our last method. Last, but certainly not least.
Find sponsors for your research
Finding a sponsor to pay to get survey respondents can be quite challenging. This approach requires dedication and strongly depends on whether your research is relevant and profitable for companies, but you can be creative and pull it off (I believe in you!).
Disclaimer: We would only advise this if (1) you are proactive and creative, (2) require many respondents (>250), and/or (3) have very specific criteria.
Example of very specific surveys:
- Certain types of professionals: Splunk developers, AWS specialists, Psychiatrists, Doctors, leaders in business.
- Children (under 18)
- Longitudinal studies, there's typically a high drop-off rate, so you will need be able to offer enough money to keep people engaged.
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 to pay for survey respondents?
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 your survey
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 3 alternative ways, which you can easily combine:
1. Find companies or communities 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 give them new insights and it's free advertisement for them.
They might give you access to a user base to send your survey to, or they might be willing to pay for a paid panel for you. A business expense also lowers their taxes, so they are quite likely to approve this. You can purchase respondents on panels like the paid version of SurveySwap.
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.
3. You can also find relevant subgroups, communities, or foundations about a topic. For example, if you want participants who are into gardening, you might want to get in touch with a magazine or community (online or offline) that is into gardening. Try to call them. They might give you access to their members in return for you writing an article for them, or just because they like to help.
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 a sponsor. Otherwise, your social circle, 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.
Lastly, we want to wish you a lot of good luck. We know it's tough to research by yourself, whether it's a bachelor's or a master's thesis. Relax, you're doing something difficult and learning it on the job, you will be fine.