How to reward online research participation

The most common question we get asked is how do you incentivise (reward) consumers, or participants, who have agreed to take part in an online research project. What do we pay them to maximise the contribution and ensure ongoing engagement?

First of all let me say there isn’t any easy one-size-fits-all solution, or secret formula, to ensure people log-in regularly to an over-time discussion board, or turn up to a live online focus group. Even though incentive payments are important, as equally important is the regularity of contact you have with participants before and during your online research project.


Typically, online focus groups, or online interviews, run between 60 and 90 minutes. When considering the incentive the first rule of thumb is to think about how you would incentives these people if they were participating in an old style face to face (physical) focus group. The message here is don’t assume because people are sitting in front of the computer at home, or in the office, you can reward them as little as possible. You need to incentivise individuals based on time, complexity and targeting of your project. But, I do acknowledge that participants’ save time and money not having to organise travel to a physical location. So let’s look at it this way, if you were to incentivise individuals $90 to be at a physical location for an hour, then you might decide to incentives 20% to 30% less. However, in the case of a group of professionals a reduced rate may not be appropriate.

Online discussion boards, or mini communities, are a little bit different as they occur over a specific period of time – from days, weeks, to months. Recently, I was asked what a reasonable incentive to engage a medical professional in a week-long online discussion. The answer to this is a little easier, if you are engaging professionals’ then discounting incentives is just not an option. You will need to pay according to the time they spend with you and this would be the same as them charging out for their hours. For example, if you need them to contribute say 10 minutes a day for 6 days then that’s an hour of chargeable time, and for a Doctor that may be as much as $400 – $500 dollars – of course this is at the highest end of professional recruitment. In this case I would also tag the reward to the completion of the project (not reward per day) and the degree of thought placed in the contribution. If you are upfront with the project requirements you will find that it will result in a quality outcome.

If you are engaging ‘general’ consumers in an online discussion you can think about this in terms of time required each day and link the incentive payment with the daily participation rate. As an example, you could specify participants have to contribute 10 minutes a day for 5 consecutive days and complete all the tasks to receive a $30 incentive payment. Alternatively you could split $30 over 5 days, so $6 a day, which accumulates each day they complete their tasks. If participants fail to complete a task on any given day then they don’t receive payment for that day.

A word of caution, you do need to be careful not to structure your incentive payment so it promotes ‘cash for comment’. There is definitely a fine line between incentivising participation and paying for a ‘correct’ answer. You will need to check you are not asking participants to answer a certain way in order to receive the full payment. Another method that seems to be growing in popularity, and one to approach cautiously, is ‘gamification’ – a popular method of adding competitive comradery into your discussion boards through the use of leader boards. This can work in certain instances, but you do need to make sure you don’t lock participants into a spiralling competition of who can post the most comments into the discussion board to score extra points and rank higher on the board. One way to address this is to ensure the points awarded to each individual is based on both the activity of commenting and the quality of the comments.

GroupQuality® is a cloud based customer feedback and insights software and service that helps you capture consumer insights, in less time, on smaller budgets and with fewer resources. If you need a fast and flexible tool to engage customers, employees and partners, to communicate, collaborate, ask questions and quickly capture the answers, then we are for you!

This article first appeared @

Share this: