Monitoring Twitter Conversations for Targeted Recruitment in Cancer Trials in Los Angeles County: Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Pilot Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2018 Sep 25;7(9):e177. doi: 10.2196/resprot.9762.


Background: Insufficient recruitment of participants remains a critical roadblock to successful clinical research, particularly clinical trials. Social media provide new ways for connecting potential participants with research opportunities. Researchers suggest that the social network Twitter may serve as a rich avenue for exploring how patients communicate about their health issues and increasing enrollment in cancer clinical trials. However, there is a lack of evidence that Twitter offers practical utility and impact.

Objective: This pilot study aimed to examine the feasibility and impact of using Twitter monitoring data (ie, user activity and their conversations about cancer-related conditions and concerns expressed by Twitter users in Los Angeles County) as a tool for enhancing clinical trial recruitment at a comprehensive cancer center.

Methods: We will conduct a mixed-methods interrupted time series study design with a before-and-after social media recruitment intervention. On the basis of a preliminary analysis of eligible trials, we plan to onboard at least 84 clinical trials across 6 disease categories: breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, lymphoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and prostate cancer that are open to accrual at the University of Southern California (USC) Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. We will monitor messages about these 6 cancer conditions posted by Twitter users in Los Angeles County. Recruitment for the trials will occur through the Twitter account (@USCTrials). Primary study outcomes-feasibility and acceptance of the social media intervention among targeted Twitter users and the study teams of the onboarded trials-will be assessed using qualitative interviews and the 4-point Likert scale and by calculating the proportion of targeted Twitter users who engaged with outreach messages. Second, impact of the social media intervention will be measured by calculating the proportion of enrollees in trials. The enrollment rate will be compared between the active intervention period and the prior 10 months as historical control for each disease trial group. This study has been funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science through a Clinical and Translational Science Award. Study approval was obtained from the clinical investigations committee at USC Norris and the institutional review board at USC.

Results: Recruitment on Twitter started in February 2018. Data collection will be completed in November 2018.

Conclusions: This pilot project will provide preliminary data and practical insight into the application of publicly available Twitter data to identify and recruit clinical trial participants across 6 cancer disease types. We will shed light on the acceptance of the social media intervention among Twitter users and study team members of the onboarded trials. If successful, the findings will inform a multisite randomized controlled trial to determine the efficacy of the social media intervention across different locations and populations.

Trial registration: NCT03408561; (Archived by WebCite at

Registered report identifier: RR1-10.2196/9762.

Keywords: Twitter; breast cancer; cancer; clinical research; clinical trial; colon cancer; kidney cancer; listening; lung cancer; lymphoma; monitoring; outreach; prostate cancer; recruitment; research participation; social media; social network; surveillance.

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