Background: Recruiting an adequate number of participants into medical research studies is challenging for many researchers. Over the past 10 years, the use of social media websites has increased in the general population. Consequently, social media websites are a new, powerful method for recruiting participants into such studies.
Objective: The objective was to answer the following questions: (1) Is the use of social media more effective at research participant recruitment than traditional methods? (2) Does social media recruit a sample of research participants comparable to that recruited via other methods? (3) Is social media more cost-effective at research participant recruitment than traditional methods?
Methods: Using the MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and EMBASE databases, all medical research studies that used social media and at least one other method for recruitment were identified. These studies were then categorized as either interventional studies or observational studies. For each study, the effectiveness of recruitment, demographic characteristics of the participants, and cost-effectiveness of recruitment using social media were evaluated and compared with that of the other methods used. The social media sites used in recruitment were identified, and if a study stated that the target population was "difficult to reach" as identified by the authors of the study, this was noted.
Results: Out of 30 studies, 12 found social media to be the most effective recruitment method, 15 did not, and 3 found social media to be equally effective as another recruitment method. Of the 12 studies that found social media to be the best recruitment method, 8 were observational studies while 4 were interventional studies. Of the 15 studies that did not find social media to be the best recruitment method, 7 were interventional studies while 8 were observational studies. In total, 8 studies stated that the target population was "hard-to-reach," and 6 of these studies found social media to be the most effective recruitment method. Out of 14 studies that reported demographic data for participants, 2 studies found that social media recruited a sample comparable to that recruited via traditional methods and 12 did not. Out of 13 studies that reported cost-effectiveness, 5 studies found social media to be the most cost-effective recruitment method, 7 did not, and 1 study found social media equally cost-effective as compared with other methods.
Conclusions: Only 12 studies out of 30 found social media to be the most effective recruitment method. There is evidence that social media can be the best recruitment method for hard-to-reach populations and observational studies. With only 30 studies having compared recruitment through social media with other methods, more studies need to be done that report the effectiveness of recruitment for each strategy, demographics of participants recruited, and cost-effectiveness of each method.
Keywords: Internet; intervention study; observational study; patient selection; social media; social networking.
©Jane Topolovec-Vranic, Karthik Natarajan. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 07.11.2016.