Recruiting Participants through Social Networks and the Challenge of Data

I write this post today on the 1st of February as my survey finally goes live – and hope to reflect through this entire chaotic process.

Since the start of my PhD, the one issue that has plagued my nightmares almost on a weekly basis has been my lack of data. The frustration of not having access to data has undoubtedly changed the direction of my research. While I never had a clear idea of what I wanted to research at the start of my PhD, a lot of my hesitation stemmed from uncertainty around data.

My data drought seemed all the more frustrating, when everyone around me seemed to be overflowing in data – almost not knowing what to do with it. I had times when I questioned whether PhD researchers can ever look at MOOC data, given how closely guarded it is. I remember meeting a prominent academic in the field at a conference and complaining about my lack of data – His response was probably the best advice you could give any starting PhD student – “Find an existing Project – Piggy Back on it – Get Data – Win”. I had tried that and failed, due to office politics. And now I, as well as my supervisors, were incredibly apprehensive about leaving my project in the hands of any other group, who at any time might pull out because they don’t owe me shit.

And so here I am – with almost a dozen different templates for spamming my survey through social networks and email. I know it’s going to be an uphill battle. Peoples’ attention spans on social media, especially with posts that might look like advertising, is incredibly low. There are a number of design decisions that have been made within the survey, its length, type of questioning, order of questioning, etc. that might address some of this – but first they need to click on the bloody link. Coupled with the fact that my target population could be literally anywhere – means I need to cast a net as wide as possible – literally.

I’ve provided incentive, much to the disagreement of my supervisors, in the form of a sweepstakes for 5 x £20 Amazon Online Vouchers. This may not seem like much to us, but to an Indian respondent, it might just make that clickbaity Facebook post seem more worthwhile.

I’ve created a list of literally every university in India’s Facebook group, and will be posting in all of them. LinkedIn group related to Indians? Sure I’ve joined them all. I’ve created a WhatsApp group message with overly gratuitous usage of the Indian Flag Emoji. There’s been a lot of effort put into perfectly phrasing a Tweet that triggers just the right emotional/patriotic response in less than 130 characters (Leave 10 to @ someone). As my survey is going to run for almost six months, there are multiple phases of desperation I will encounter in recruiting more participants. At a later stage, depending on responses, I even plan on @ Tweeting Bollywood celebrities with millions of followers, hoping they Retweet me to seem more socially conscious (I mention “help us improve #Indian higher #education” rather disingenuously in all my postings – Hey, don’t judge.).

At the end of the six months, I’d either have completely failed, or I might have invented a new research method of recruiting through social networks. Either outcome is scary to me. I hope to keep this blog as an account of this journey.