Compliance is critical for our company, covering legal, security, and privacy. But, in order for our company to build the best products we also needed direct access to the right user research participants. I needed a way to use tools for managing my user research workflow that our compliance teams were comfortable with us using, didn’t cost a fortune, and actually allowed me to do my job as a researcher.



So how did I approach this problem? 

I googled so many options for help with user research and workflow until I finally decided on Ethnio. Ethnio offered all the options and support I needed to help me manage my research goals. We needed a beta group and had a list of people in a spreadsheet, which was not compliant. While many of you reading this probably store P.I.I. in non-compliant ways, that’s just one of many reasons you can’t know who I am.



Key features of Ethnio I needed

  • Pool: a central place to track emails and research invites that scales from a few hundred participants, at first, to eventually tens of thousands

  • Opt outs / opt-ins in one tool 

  • Multiple sources of participants I have some participants from Qualtrics and some from internal lists and need them all in one place

  • Compliance: to mention again, was critical 

  • Scheduling: also really important, because I didn’t want to have yet another tool all over the place; I wanted as many things as possible together

  • Incentives: this was huge for us. I didn’t want to keep going back on Amazon and dealing with that myself every time, only to offer one type of reward. I wanted to give my participants more choice and track it in one place

  • Comparing beta program tools to UX research tools: in our case we didn’t want our beta group to have to create a login/pwd somewhere to access their tasks and steps in the beta program



My Pool Party

Let’s start with Ethnio’s central participant database. In my experience looking at other tools, this was the most attractive element of ethnio, especially in that it integrated with screening, scheduling, and payment. Pool was 100% necessary for me, because I was tasked with reaching out to a list of people which were given to us by our marketing team, that we wanted to reach back out to and then additionally send out mass email campaigns. We needed these key features in Pool: 


  • Filters: the ability to use demographics like income, gender, education level, location, marital status, home ownership, and product usage history

  • Precise HTML email templates my marketing team has strict guidelines on how any outbound emails


Email content variables


  • Segments: “Homeowners with income over $300k who have used X product before”


Segments example


  • Onboarding screener: one of the areas that caused some difficulty is Ethnio doesn’t believe in required fields, which was something we had to work around

  • Rules: this makes me make sure no body on my team is reaching out too often to the same participants 


Pool rules


  • Opt-outs: also so important to me. From a compliance standpoint, both of these features were critical in order for me to sell the tool internally



Vendor approval

It took us about three months to go through security, privacy, and legal reviews of Ethnio. Nothing super exciting to report here. Their documentation was helpful, and GDPR information as well. Here are the key steps we took to get Ethnio approved for an intercept, scheduling, and incentive payments.


Steps to getting Ethnio approved



Getting people into my pool

There were three ways I got people into my pool to be able to setup some segments and send out emails inviting potential participants to research:

  1.  I exported some survey responses from Qualtrics consisting of previously opted-in respondents who are potential participants for my beta research program

    Exporting from QualtricsDownloading from Qualtrics

  2. CSVs from my engineers that had similar columns to Qualtrics opt-in surveys

  3. New Ethnio screeners I created to capture new opt-ins



Let’s talk opt-outs, global opt-outs

In Ethnio, I can add dynamic opt-out links with every email distribution. But what I really like, is that anytime a recipient clicks opt-out, they are no longer able to receive emails for any future study or from other team members here. If anyone else is dealing with compliance like I am, you know how important it is. My compliance team doesn’t care about someone opting out of a group, they want the ability to opt-out of all further research communication. 


Of course this is separate from our marketing email preferences, which is a completely different world of global opt-outs. In my research world however, allowing someone to tell us not to bother them for any research is extremely important. 


Syncing opt outs with our email marketing team: of course I can export these opt-outs to give to the marketing team, so they can add those to their opt-outs, but that’s a workflow we cannot control. 


Opted out results

Export to CSV


Watch out for email styles

One of the issues that came up around setting up the initial email templates is that our internal guidelines for the look and feel of our emails are pretty strict. Ethnio let me import inline HTML into their templates, but not all the emails render in all my recipients emails clients the same way. This was a big challenge at first, and it took some iterating to modify the email templates in Ethnio to adhere our internal guidelines for most email recipients. It’s still something that’s tricky.


inline HTML



The Outcome

Ethnio let me increase my research volume by more than 300% and drastically reduced the time it took to contact, screen, schedule, and pay participants. Before this, I was blocked on all research until I got to compliance. After being setup with Ethnio, we had the feeling we were ready to run our research program.


I’d love to say this allowed me to tackle the type of longitudinal generative-research that we all yearn to conduct. The truth is, we were doing quick-hit product launches and Ethnio lets us crank out incredibly fast studies with everything tracked all in one place. 


But hey that’s user research, right?