Facebook: an effective tool for participant retention in longitudinal research

Child Care Health Dev. 2012 Sep;38(5):753-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2011.01326.x. Epub 2011 Oct 11.


Background: Facebook is currently one of the world's most visited websites, and home to millions of users who access their accounts on a regular basis. Owing to the website's ease of accessibility and free service, demographic characteristics of users span all domains. As such, Facebook may be a valuable tool for locating and communicating with participants in longitudinal research studies. This article outlines the benefit gained in a longitudinal follow-up study, of an intervention programme for at-risk families, through the use of Facebook as a search engine.

Results: Using Facebook as a resource, we were able to locate 19 participants that were otherwise 'lost' to follow-up, decreasing attrition in our study by 16%. Additionally, analysis indicated that hard-to-reach participants located with Facebook differed significantly on measures of receptive language and self-esteem when compared to their easier-to-locate counterparts.

Conclusions: These results suggest that Facebook is an effective means of improving participant retention in a longitudinal intervention study and may help improve study validity by reaching participants that contribute differing results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies / methods*
  • Lost to Follow-Up*
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Search Engine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*