Social Media Recruitment: Preparing an IRB Submission

This is the third 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

Preparing an IRB Submission

It is important to know which recruitment materials to submit to the IRB if you are planning to recruit your participants via social media. There are a few nuances to keep in mind compared to flyers or other traditional methods. Below are two key features of an IRB application related to social media recruitment:

First: a description of using social media as a recruitment method. Your description should mention the recruitment media (“online” can suffice for multiple media), what advertising will feature (e.g. text and/or images), and the process by which it will lead to study enrollment. Here is a sample of successful language in an IRB application proposing to use online tools including Facebook for recruitment:  

“Online advertising will be used to recruit potential participants. Advertisements will be targeted based on study eligibility criteria (e.g. age, smoking behavior, drinking behavior etc.). Advertisements may appear as banners, text, or URLs links for users to click on if they are interested in the study. By clicking on an advertisement, the user will be directed to our online screening questionnaire. Until recruitment for the study is complete, we will be assessing the advertisements on a regular basis. Some ads will be used and some may not.”

Next, advertisements submitted to the IRB as separate documents should be tailored to social media. We suggest that you generate two separate documents to submit to the IRB: 1) a comprehensive list of text options that you may want to use at some point during your recruitment campaign; and 2) a comprehensive set of images that you might use for designing your ads on different social media platforms. Submitting a comprehensive list with the first IRB submission is ideal, so you will have approved options if your ads are not working to recruit your target population, or if a social media platform rejects your ads. Do not underestimate this possibility.

Text Document:

Make sure your text length fits the restrictions of your target platform(s). For example, Facebook’s ad text length is maximum 90 characters, headline 25 characters, and link description 30 characters and Google’s ad headline 30 characters and description 80 characters. Use multiple lengths if you plan to use multiple platforms. Check the platforms you intend to use at the start of each campaign – sites change their guidelines often.

Figure 1 shows an example of an IRB-approved text document for recruitment of young adults for a study about smoking and alcohol use.


Figure 1: Sample IRB-approved text for use in social media recruitment ads (click here for full document)

Image document

As with text, make sure your image document is comprehensive and inclusive of all social media platforms you intend to use. If you plan to use Facebook, we recommend posting the images on Facebook Ads Manager before you submit to the IRB, as the picture should adhere to Facebook’s ad policy. There are specific requirements as to the amount of text that a given image can have, and the extent to which certain images are appropriate. More details on Facebook’s image regulations are on Facebook Ads Policy page.

Figure 2 shows an example of an IRB-approved image document that accompanied Figure 1.

Figure 2: Sample IRB-approved images for use in social media recruitment ads (click here for full document)