Breaking the Ice with Snowball Sampling

At Observation Baltimore we use a number recruiting methods to get high quality respondents.  One such method is snowball sampling. Also known as referral sampling, snowball sampling is predominantly used for research that has a very small scope that inherently limits the participant pool. In this week’s blog, we wanted to shed some light on snowball sampling and how it works.

Snowball Sampling

Imagine you are conducting research on a rare condition that affects a relatively small number of people. It would be difficult to find these people using traditional recruitment methods. This is where snowball sampling comes into play. The process begins by recruiting one or two participants who have the condition you’re studying. Once you find a participant, he or she can refer other potential participants that he/she knows. If we assume that each person can refer two more potential participants, the potential pool soon multiplies or “snowballs” exponentially, and soon enough there is a critical mass of respondents.

Another area in which snowball sampling works well is in the corporate sphere. For example, snowball sampling is a great tool when conducting B2B related research that requires the input of higher level executives. There are a finite number of executives that could work in this situation, and contacting them using common recruiting methods can prove difficult. Using snowball sampling, we contact one or two executives, who could then use their networks to recommend additional participants. Again, the effect snowballs, and in this way we are able to gather enough participants for a study.

Snowball sampling doesn’t necessarily have to be used for exclusive fields such as B2B or patient  research. One of the main advantages of snowball sampling (aside from its ability to tap into a respondent’s social network) is the fact that it generally makes respondents more comfortable with the idea of participating. Respondents trust their friends, and for a friend to refer them confers a certain level of trustworthiness that can be hard to achieve using other methods. This proves particularly useful in any research where the friend dynamic would be useful. Examples of this include research involving moms, children, or teens.

To learn more about snowball sampling or to discuss other recruiting methodologies further, please contact Peter Scanlon (

snowball sampling

Observation Baltimore is one of the top Maryland Market Research Facilities and rated “One of the World’s Best” by Impulse Survey. Our experienced recruiting is the foundation of our mission, as well as courteous and proactive hospitality and client services. Our environmentally kind facility and practices are a testament to our character, and most importantly: We understand market research!

To learn more about the research facility at Observation Baltimore: call us at 410-332-0400 or click here! If you’d like to participate in one of our focus groups, please sign up at

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 at 7:44 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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