The Use of Facebook Advertising to Recruit Healthy Elderly People for a Clinical Trial: Baseline Metrics

JMIR Res Protoc. 2018 Jan 24;7(1):e20. doi: 10.2196/resprot.7918.


Background: This report provides data on the use of social media advertising as a clinical trial recruitment strategy targeting healthy volunteers aged 60 years and older. The social media advertising campaign focused on enrollment for a Phase 1 clinical trial. Traditional means of recruiting-billboards, newspaper advertising, word of mouth, personal referrals, and direct mail-were not producing enough qualified participants.

Objective: To demonstrate the effectiveness of using targeted advertising on the social networking site Facebook to recruit people aged 60 years and older for volunteer clinical trial participation.

Methods: The trial sponsor used a proactive approach to recruit participants using advertising on social media. The sponsor placed and monitored an Institutional Review Board-approved advertising campaign on Facebook to recruit potential candidates for a Phase 1 clinical trial. The clinical trial required a 10-day residential (overnight) stay at a clinic in Michigan, with one follow-up visit. The sponsor of the clinical trial placed the advertising, which directed interested respondents to a trial-specific landing page controlled by the Contract Research Organization (CRO). The CRO provided all follow-up consenting, prescreening, screening, and enrollment procedures. The campaign was waged over an 8-week period to supplement recruiting by the CRO.

Results: A total of 621 people responded to a Facebook advertising campaign by completing an online form or telephoning the CRO, and the clinical trial was fully enrolled at 45 subjects following an 8-week Facebook advertising campaign.

Conclusions: An 8-week Facebook advertising campaign contributed to 868 inquiries made regarding a Phase 1 clinical trial seeking to enroll healthy elderly subjects. Over the initial 11 weeks of recruitment, 178 inquiries were received using traditional methods of outreach. Respondents to the Facebook advertising campaign described in this report engaged with the sponsored advertising at a higher rate than is typical for social media-based clinical trial recruitment strategies. The older adults' engagement rate of 4.92% was more than twice as high as click-through rates of younger adults engaged with social media advertising in other clinical trial recruitment studies. Advertising placed on the social media platform Facebook is effective with the healthy volunteer population aged 60 years and older. This approach can quickly and cost-effectively reach qualified candidates for clinical trial recruitment as a supplement to traditional means of recruiting.

Trial registration: NCT02840279; (Archived by WebCite at

Keywords: Facebook; advertising; clinical trial recruitment; elderly; medical research; older people; research subject recruitment; social media.

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