Gauging your page: Can Facebook solve clinical trial recruitment?

As many in the clinical trial world struggle to recruit anywhere near the number of participants they need, others are finding success through Facebook advertising and posts.

Though the number of trials registered on has grown 185 percent since 2005, striking a record 234,467 as of Jan. 13, recruitment remains a major issue. In the past, up to 50 percent of proposed trials have faltered after recruiting one or no participants.

Research shows that’s partly due to misinformation or a lack of information about such trials, but a U.S. study last year indicates that can be overcome with education. When the study started, only 40 percent of respondents had a positive impression of such trials, and only 35 percent were "likely" to enroll. After reading a brief statement defining such trials, those with a positive impression jumped to 60 percent.

Enter Facebook, which has already proven useful in creating trial awareness and is now becoming more of a recruitment tool, often through both free posts and paid ads. In many ways the medium is ideal for recruiting: It attracts 68 percent of U.S. adults who go online; it’s cost effective; it effectively combines organic and paid reach into one platform; and it offers advanced levels of audience targeting. Its Relevance Score system works well for paid search advertising, and its Lookalike Audiences feature can efficiently find new recruitment prospects — including minorities and those from subpopulations — based on your lists of similar prospects.

Some argue that Facebook recruitment campaigns can backfire, undermining study integrity and participation by enabling skewed online conversations about the studies and their possible adverse effects. But proponents argue that risk is worth the potential rewards.

“Widespread patient sharing of information over the Internet can both support and undermine efforts to obtain meaningful results from biopharmaceutical research studies,” advises Jill Wechsler on “Facebook pages can help recruit patients to clinical trials and make them feel part of a community making an important contribution to health and science.”

Some guidelines for pursuing trial recruitment on Facebook:

  • Consider campaign logistics. What timeline will be involved? How and by whom will your site be monitored, how will any negative commentary be addressed, and how will recruits be entered into the study? What metrics will define your success? Understand the FDA regulations and Institutional Review Board guidelines that apply, and ensure full approval from the study sponsor.
  • Understand your target audience before constructing messages, accounting for target demographics, research site location, language barriers, optimal posting times, etc.
  • Plan and post content. Engagement typically starts with a mix of informational and entertaining posts aimed at building relationships before you ease into active recruitment. In general, keep text short, devoid of medical jargon and humanized so it doesn’t sound overly clinical, and be sure to include powerful imagery. A prominent and easily clickable “learn more” button opens the door for you to provide more detailed information and/or direct requests for participation.
  • Steer traffic toward your page. Facebook can help you strategize when buying ads to complement your unpaid posts, but your strategy will likely require a mix of paid and unpaid methods, both online and offline. You might solicit help from patient advocacy groups that have strong social media presences, cluing them in about your trial plans. “Send press releases to post to the website and social media, provide links to sponsor information on studies or send newsletters with upcoming clinical trials or completed studies,” recommends Kristen Snipes on
  • Track your campaign. Facebook's Page Insights can help monitor a number of your metrics including reach, engagement and conversions. For monitoring of paid ads, check out Facebook’s Ads Manager.

Learning the nuts and bolts of trial recruitment via Facebook could take some time and effort, but may be both impactful and cost effective. Artcraft Health recently cited a comparison of two recruiting campaigns by the University of Alabama School of Medicine seeking trialists for tests related to cardiac arrest and trauma. The Facebook campaign cost $1,000 and led to 5.1 million viewer hits ($0.0002/view), translating to 437 visitors to the study’s website ($2.29/visit). The more traditional campaign, employing 39 community meetings for publicity, cost $8,000, and led to 465 attendants at $17.24/person.

Artcraft Health can design an entire Facebook strategy geared around your clinical trial. Contact us at 908-782-4921.

BlogLindsey Kuhl