Like you, I Google everyone and everything. It’s a force of habit. But this can be problematic when you’re recruiting and scheduling your own research participants.
I can’t help but think of a particular incident a few years back that sparked this realization. At the time, I was taking notes for a remote user research interview that my colleague facilitated. We did our own recruiting, so the participant had been screened and scheduled by us in advance. Not only did he fit our criteria, but he turned out to be an excellent participant. We learned a wealth of information from the one hour interview we conducted.
And then, after the session, we Googled him.
We quickly learned that a few years prior to the interview, he had been involved in a crime that made headlines on various news sources, including the Huffington Post. Although the charges were later dismissed, the nature of the crime was very unsettling.
While we were very saddened to learn of his involvement in the crime, we were nonetheless very glad that he participated in the interview. He provided valuable feedback and insights for our team. (As researchers, we weren’t in a position to judge him about past transgressions; we were learning about how he used our client’s product, and how we could improve that product for him.)
My colleague, who had interviewed this participant, said it was a good thing that we didn’t Google him beforehand. We would have been incredibly biased and distracted during the interview. It would have been extremely difficult to set aside that bias and not let that impact our ability to interview him and listen to his feedback. I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve Googled many participants prior to the user research sessions. Sometimes I’d visit their websites (if they had their own websites) or read their Twitter feeds. I now know that this can be incredibly biasing. Even when the information I find ahead of time seems benign, knowing too much in advance can impact the way I interview, and subsequently, the data I collect.
So, the moral of the story is, try really hard to gather only the information you need for screening purposes and no more. If possible, avoid “researching” the participant online before any sessions take place. This is my goal going forward. I still do my own recruiting much of the time, and I’m more curious than a cat, so I admit it’s going to be tough. But it’s worth it.