This is the first installment in the Social Media Recruitment Guide, produced by Dr. Danielle Ramo, PhD, and Manpreet Kaur, MA. Dr. Ramo is available for recruitment consultations through Consultation Services.

View more at:

  1. Introduction to Social Media Recruitment: Opportunities and Challenges
  2. Getting Started with Facebook
  3. Preparing an IRB Submission
  4. Budgeting for Social Media Recruitment

New! Social Media Recruitment Service - PRP is offering a new service to run social media (Facebook and Instagram) campaigns for studies.


Incorporating newer recruitment approaches through social media can help studies achieve their recruitment goals through targeted advertising to the study population.Social media has some distinct advantages over traditional recruitment strategies, such as the ability to track effectiveness of specific ads to inform future recruitment planning. For example, we don’t know how many potential participants saw a flyer posted outside a hospital but we can easily find out how many Facebook users saw an ad, clicked it, and contacted the study team.

Recruiting via social media can be effective, but learning how to use social media can be a barrier to getting started. To get an overview of how to plan for social media recruitment, watch this short case study of how one research team used social media to complete their recruitment goals, from planning their IRB submission to budgeting and monitoring success of their Facebook ad campaign.


Top Social Media Platforms for Recruitment

Social media and online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google AdWords offer new opportunities for researchers to recruit study participants for clinical research studies. The Pew Internet and American Life Project survey of social media use found that in 2016 Facebook was the most widely used social network in the United States. Seventy-six percent Facebook users and 51% of Instagram users (51%) visit these sites at least once a day.

Facebook is also the most popular platform for recruitment.  A search on PubMed in April 2017 using the keywords “social media” and “clinical trial” resulted in 267 studies mentioned social media for recruitment. Of those studies, 130 (48%) used Facebook for participant recruitment. These papers include case studies on using social media for recruitment, comparison of social media to traditional recruitment strategies, and literature reviews. These studies highlight clear benefits of using social media for recruitment across a wide range of populations. 

Social media platforms can reach and engage diverse populations, though usage may be different depending on the target population: According to a 2014 Pew Research Poll, Facebook is the top platform, regardless of race or ethnicity, with around seven-in-ten adult internet users (71%) reporting they use the site; some of the lesser-used platforms vary in usage rates between different races and ethnicities (read the full Pew report here: Social media preferences vary by race and ethnicity.)

Advantages of Social Media

These short videos present some advantages and disadvantages of using Facebook for recruitment:



Benefits of social media
  1. Wide reach: A 2016 Pew survey found that 79% of internet users (68% of all U.S. adults) use Facebook. while smaller shares of users access Twitter (24%), Pinterest (31%), Instagram (32%) or LinkedIn (29%). Thus, recruitment via social media can reach a much larger audience than by posting flyers locally.  
  2. 24/7 Recruitment: Social media may enable researchers to reach participants on weekends/holidays or other times outside of the common work hours. Given the ubiquity of social media, recruitment can continue even when the recruiting staff has gone home and the clinics are closed.
  3. Targeted ads: All social media platforms (including online advertising through Google AdWords) offer targeting on the basis of specific demographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, race, geographical locations), or lifestyle of health conditions through keywords.
  4. Efficiency: Social media can be much less time-intensive compared to traditional methods of recruitment.
Issues to Consider 
  1. Competition for attention: Social media campaigns must compete for the limited attention of users, and ads must be simple and engaging to effectively attract potential participants.
  2. Results may vary: Not all diseases are a good fit for social media and may be more useful for chronic diseases than for acute ones. For example, Facebook groups and profile descriptions are more common for long term illnesses, whereas people may google acute problems rather than looking on Facebook, making Google AdWords a better strategy. Meanwhile, some studies of severe acute conditions may not be a good fit for social media recruitment and may require recruitment in the clinical setting rather than online
  3. Staying on top of comments: Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow users to comment directly on ads--potentially reducing privacy as participants may discuss specific health problems or tag friends that they may know personally. Additionally, comments on ads could be negative and deter people from joining the study. See the following example of a Facebook ad from a smoking and drinking study. The comments show how people are tagging their friends to be a part of the study (names have been redacted and anonymized). You can't turn off commenting, but you can delete any inappropriate comments.

Figure 1: Comments on Facebook recruitment ad (click image to view)