The goal of this article is to help you more effectively recruit executives and industry experts as candidates for your qualitative market-research studies.
Let's assume two points: (1) your studies are not appropriate for participants found on purchased lists, and (2) the participants will take part in a series of in-depth interviews (IDIs).
So how do you find your interviewees?
Rather than typing words or phrases blindly into search engines in an effort to find that "center mass" of expertise, you'll have more success if you follow the tips outlined in this article.
Google, or any search engine, has a great deal of potential when it comes to identifying candidates for a series of IDIs. Although anyone can search for anything with Google, the search engine supports many advanced techniques that are particularly useful for identifying interview candidates.
For example, Google can help you identify people who have given presentations on a particular subject.
Since PowerPoint is the lingua franca of presentations, you can use the "filetype" directive to narrow your search. By typing "solar power filetype:ppt" (or filetype:pptx or filetype:pdf), for example, you can limit the results to presentations on the topic, and those presentations often contain the presenter's contact information.
If you know of particular places where likely candidates "hang out," you can further constrain your search to those URLs by using the "site" directive, as in "solar power filetype:pdf site:ciomagazine.com."
Similarly, you can direct your search to a conference website or an organization that hosts several conferences for a given industry (e.g., Gartner or O'Reilly for the software industry) and get useful results.
Use Google Images (images.google.com) to search for corporate organizational charts, which can tell you the roles that might exist in a target industry and potentially the contact information for key individuals in the organizational hierarchy. Searching Google for filetype:vsd returns organizational charts developed in Microsoft Visio.
Another place to look for industry experts is SlideShare.net, a website dedicated to hosting presentations. A simple search of your topic can lead you to recent presentations by thought leaders, members of key business or software organizations, and other enthusiasts. Contact information is usually embedded within presentations.
Corporations, Case Studies, and Interviews
Most corporations spend a lot of time interviewing their customers to determine what successes those customers have had in deploying the companies' products.
Such interviews can prove to be a treasure trove of profile and title information for senior and midlevel members of an organization. Google can make your search easier by constraining it so that it points directly to a case-study site (e.g., "solar powers site:www.acme.com/casestudies/*").
Look for summits or regional conferences on the topic you are researching. If it's a B2B or a sizable B2C topic, odds are good that a slew of conferences, seminars, and one-day events relating to the topic have been held during the last year.
Lists of speakers who appear at those events can be comprehensive resources for gaining access to experts on the subject.
When looking for individuals around the world, search the regional magazines of a larger publication. For example, CIO magazine has several regional websites and regional magazines. Those sites and their associated print publications target a singular country or locale.
CIO magazine's Finnish site contains articles and information different from those on its US site, so if you can't read Finnish or Swedish, don't worry. The rough translation provided by www.google.com/translate should be clear enough to get you the name of a person mentioned on the site and some understanding as to whether that person qualifies for your study.
Nonprofit or Business Associations
Most nonprofit business associations have boards and committees run by people who have "day jobs" within the industry that the particular association promotes or supports. Often, the leadership of those associations will participate in market-research studies that are aligned with the industry or topic that their associations focus on.
Remember that text sources aren't the only places to find information. Try searching video sites such as YouTube, Google Video, and Blinkx.
Those sites typically show within the first few seconds of a video the name and title of the person being interviewed. Sometimes that information can be found on the video "frame" that the site uses as a thumbnail for each video in the search results.
Silobreaker is a website that lets you read what thought leaders and industry movers and shakers have said on a particular topic over the last few weeks. You can then use secondary research techniques to find more information about those individuals, helping you determine whether they would be qualified candidates for your study.
Although LinkedIn can be used in various ways as part of a market-research project, one way that gets less attention is the use of the networking site's question-and-answer (Q&A) feature.
We have used LinkedIn to post targeted questions that ended up generating responses from experts on our subject. We then contacted them directly to ascertain whether they would be appropriate for our study.
We have successfully "mined" t the large number of questions and answers that already exist on LinkedIn. You may find that the questions you want to ask as part of a study have been asked at least once already on LinkedIn.
Although the LinkedIn Q&A model does not have the rigor of a market-research study and should not take the place of one, it can be a solid starting point for finding knowledgeable candidates for your study.
Lists of Experts on a Topic
Another option is to use the same tools that journalists use when they are trying to find knowledgeable sources.
The National Speakers Association's database of speakers is a good starting point. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) provides information about leaders across all associations (humanitarian, business-oriented, etc.).
Many university systems operate websites that provide easy access to faculty information and the names of people who might be knowledgeable speakers on a given subject.
For example, Purdue operates the "Big Ten Plus" database at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/newsweb.experts.html.
For a list that points to experts on a range of topics, visit Sources and Experts (http://www.ibiblio.org/riverat/internet/experts.htm).
Finally, sites such as ExpertTweet are beginning to gain traction, as they broadcast via Twitter a request for expertise.
Web-based tools offer a variety of ways to find candidates for IDIs. So jump out of Google's search box and begin using more-advanced techniques to quickly identify experts and candidates for your qualitative research studies.