Using social media for health research: Methodological and ethical considerations for recruitment and intervention delivery

Digit Health. 2018 May 7;4:2055207618771757. doi: 10.1177/2055207618771757. eCollection Jan-Dec 2018.


As the popularity and diversity of social media platforms increases so does their utility for health research. Using social media for recruitment into clinical studies and/or delivering health behavior interventions may increase reach to a broader audience. However, evidence supporting the efficacy of these approaches is limited, and key questions remain with respect to optimal benchmarks, intervention development and methodology, participant engagement, informed consent, privacy, and data management. Little methodological guidance is available to researchers interested in using social media for health research. In this Tutorial, we summarize the content of the 2017 Society for Behavioral Medicine Pre-Conference Course entitled 'Using Social Media for Research,' at which the authors presented their experiences with methodological and ethical issues relating to social media-enabled research recruitment and intervention delivery. We identify common pitfalls and provide recommendations for recruitment and intervention via social media. We also discuss the ethical and responsible conduct of research using social media for each of these purposes.

Keywords: Digital health; Facebook; Twitter; health behavior change; research ethics; social media.