Background: Few studies have addressed enrollment and retention methods in online smoking cessation interventions. Fully automated Web-based trials can yield large numbers of participants rapidly but suffer from high rates of attrition. Personal contact with participants can increase recruitment of smokers into cessation trials and improve participant retention.
Objective: To compare the impact of Web-based (WEB) and phone (PH) baseline assessments on enrollment and retention metrics in the context of a Facebook smoking cessation study.
Methods: Participants were recruited via Facebook and Google ads which were randomly displayed to adult smokers in the United States over 27 days from August to September 2013. On each platform, two identical ads were randomly displayed to users who fit the advertising parameters. Clicking on one of the ads resulted in randomization to WEB, and clicking on the other ad resulted in randomization to PH. Following online eligibility screening and informed consent, participants in the WEB arm completed the baseline survey online whereas PH participants completed the baseline survey by phone with a research assistant. All participants were contacted at 30 days to complete a follow-up survey that assessed use of the cessation intervention and smoking outcomes. Participants were paid $15 for follow-up survey completion.
Results: A total of 4445 people clicked on the WEB ad and 4001 clicked on the PH ad: 12.04% (n=535) of WEB participants and 8.30% (n=332) of PH participants accepted the online study invitation (P<.001). Among the 726 participants who completed online eligibility screening, an equivalent proportion in both arms was eligible and an equivalent proportion of the eligible participants in both arms provided informed consent. There was significant drop-off between consent and completion of the baseline survey in the PH arm, resulting in enrollment rates of 32.7% (35/107) for the PH arm and 67.9% (114/168) for the WEB arm (P<.001). The overall enrollment rate among everyone who clicked on a study ad was 2%. There were no between group differences in the proportion that installed the Facebook app (66/114, 57.9% WEB vs 17/35, 49% PH) or that completed the 30-day follow-up survey (49/114, 43.0% WEB vs 16/35, 46% PH). A total of $6074 was spent on ads, generating 3,834,289 impressions and resulting in 8446 clicks (average cost $0.72 per click). Per participant enrollment costs for advertising alone were $27 WEB and $87 PH.
Conclusions: A more intensive phone baseline assessment protocol yielded a lower rate of enrollment, equivalent follow-up rates, and higher enrollment costs compared to a Web-based assessment protocol. Future research should focus on honing mixed-mode assessment protocols to further optimize enrollment and retention.
Keywords: Internet; adult; research subject recruitment; smoking cessation; social networking.