Anna's recent article, "New twist to the old chestnut", made some very valid and challenging points for the fieldwork industry. As a company, we agree that recruitment does need to embrace digital methods but across and within the industry there is some resistance. Recruitment agencies in this sector rely on a network of loyal field recruiters and the shift towards online technologies will unsurprisingly be seen as a threat.

We're committed to growing the use of digital technologies alongside recruiter networks but in embracing digital recruitment we have had to tackle a number of issues; many of which have been identified by Mediacom. We would like to share our learnings in this area:

Fear of the unknown

Taking the first step towards digital methods can be daunting; digital recruitment requires the use of different technologies and different skills. It requires the use of social media, databases, forums, blogs and other technologies. And it's not just how to use these tools but how to make these tools work for recruitment purposes. It means looking within your team for the most suitable people; people who are familiar with not only how to use social media, but how to best engage with audiences via social media and other digital platforms. It can be a challenge to take the first step but a little research and confident team members will help the process go more smoothly.

Losing the personal touch

By removing the field recruiter there can be a fear that we lose an element of the personal touch; we no longer have the "screen" through which to check that the respondent recruited is social, articulate, creative and perhaps, most importantly, genuine.

While digital platforms and online recruitment will allow recruitment agencies to access new and different respondents, those outside of the major research centres and those who may be more appropriate for the project, how can we ensure they are the right respondents? We believe another stage of screening is required. A telephone conversation with prospective respondents will allow additional screening for chatty, articulate respondents, ensuring that recruitment still meets the required quality standards sought by researchers and clients. Meanwhile the "real" contact increases commitment to the project, although over-recruits are still necessary in much the same way we over-recruit when working from lists.

Researcher safety

Researcher safety is an important issue that must be considered when recruiting online just as when recruiting from lists. Unlike face-to-face, you do not have the reassurance that a trusted field recruiter has "vetted" your respondents. Engaging in personal contact with the online respondent is essential to reduce risk. This can be addressed by follow-up telephone calls via trained telephone recruiters, to assure as much as possible that the respondent is who they say they are and are suitable for the research project. Some clients always take the precaution of having a colleague or friend present when visiting respondents in their homes and other clients take measures such as calling someone before and after the interview. Recruiting respondents online is less of a security risk when the research is taking place online, at a hired/neutral venue or in a group environment.

Where to host the groups/depths?

Another factor to consider when recruiting via digital methods and panels is where to host the groups as recruiter homes are no longer an option. We've been exploring various venue options with our clients and have recruited groups into store training rooms, researcher offices, end client offices and hotel conference rooms, all of which are viable, costeffective options that avoid hefty viewing facility charges for all your research groups/interviews.

An additional factor is that many of the online respondents we recruit are recruited to forums and bulletin boards, which are held online reducing venue and travel costs.

Quality control

"Groupies" are the type of respondent we all dread but many recruiter databases can overlap, so far from being the fault of the recruiter often it can be the respondent duping us all; at the end of the day market research industry as a whole is reliant on the good will and honesty of the general public. Online recruitment enables recruitment agencies to build improved systems and procedures for quality control. It allows us the potential to automatically populate a respondent database to monitor and record dates of attendance, thus making the thorny issue of repeat attendance easier to manage.

Role for both digital methods and recruiter networks

Digital methods are another tool in the recruitment toolbox. The opportunity moving forwards is in identifying the right projects for digital. As Anna Sampson correctly points out, fresh respondents are much sought after and recruiting digitally is one way of sourcing these people. However, they do require more time investment in the set up and explanation of the research process.

In order to get the best from any respondent, the methodology has to be right and the moderation considerate. Perhaps some responsibility lies with the moderator and end clients to be willing to try digital recruitment with suitable projects.

We see digital recruitment as one type of recruitment that sits comfortably alongside methods such as telephone recruitment and recruiter networks, which will always be important. Such methods have different benefits and one way of recruiting will be more appropriate for some projects than others. We have had to overcome a number of challenges and think a little differently, but we believe there is a role for these platforms and the bottom line is that their adoption successfully enables recruitment to move forwards in the same way that the research world has embraced online methodologies.