Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Calling all participants! Recruitment through LinkedIn

Wilma Garvin is currently undertaking research into organisation development and the role of women in business in the 21st century and lectures at the Docklands Business School, University of East London. 

My research was to review approaches to organization development in multinationals and government departments in order to create specific case studies. The method used was to undertake face to face and telephone interviews. Sampling using probability sampling seemed a logical approach since the objective was to interview Heads of Organisation Development (OD) or similar i.e. senior people responsible for Organisation Development.

Linkedin was used as the social media. I use Linkedin on a regular basis and I am a member of several OD networks. It seemed like the ideal way to identify and make contact with potential participants. Therefore, the opportunity was already being in OD networks and having contacts either in OD or with contacts in their networks in OD. The challenge was using these in order to find potential participants. These methods of making contact with people through Linkedin were as follows:

- Posting a message with some details of the research in the group area and asking people to contact me

- Asking direct contacts to make an introduce me to a specific person in their network

In using Linkedin, as one source of participants the challenges were:

Ethics: while people voluntarily post their business details on Linkedin, it did seem as if it might be seen as a low level form of stalking by using Linkedin to search for potential participants. Waskul and Douglas (1996 p131) have identified online interaction as neither public or private but as the ‘privately public’ and the ‘publicly private’.

Another challenge was the expectation that there would be a positive response from each of the people in my network to introducing me to their contacts. Some contacts took action immediately even though the contact was on a 3rd level. In a few instances, my contact did not respond and took no action. Where people did try to introduce me to their contacts, the contact declined to participate.

Sampling: Using Linkedin for the sampling frame might be seen as valid although only those who have been a conscious decision to be on Linkedin will be found. This means that the list will be incomplete as it will not represent the whole community of OD specialists.

Linkedin is a public environment and so the people there have chosen to present certain information publicly and so this overcomes some of the ethical issues. It was only being used as a way to contact experts in the field and therefore there would be informed consent. The message posted on the discussion boards provided enough detail and then further details were provided as follow up and in advance of the interviews. However, posting a message on the discussion boards might have been seen as an inappropriate use of the community (Eysenbach and Till 2001).

With regard to ethics, there was also the personal feeling that looking at people’s profile before asking a contact to make an introduction seemed like invasion of privacy may be the change from the ‘old’ attitudes to the new public environment of the internet.

With regard to sampling, it seemed as if self- selection non-probability sampling had to be accepted. On the positive side, it might have been difficult to identify a database of OD specialists since the job titles of OD practitioners can be very different and so using Linkedin does provide a way to identify who these are by drawing on knowledge of the job titles used and the access to Linkedin groups.

The resources used were the knowledge of OD, contacts and specialist groups and the knowledge of using social media.

Linkedin and other social media platforms provide a way to make contact with professionals in specific categories who are willing to take place in research. While self-selection does take place, this can be seen as a positive aspect since the people who did volunteer were passionate about their subject area and were keen to share but also saw it as a way to learn from others.


Bakardjieva, M. and Feenberg, A (2001) Involving the virtual subject, Ethics Information Technology, Vol 2:4, p233-240

Eysenbach, G. and Till, J.E. (2001) Ethical issues in qualitative research on internet communities, British Medical Journal, Vol. 323, p1103-5

Waskul, D. and Douglass, M. (1996) Considering the electronic participant: some polemical observations on ethics of on-line research, The Information Society, Vol 12:2, p129-139