Comparing Social Media and In-Person Recruitment: Lessons Learned From Recruiting Substance-Using, Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents and Young Adults for a Randomized Control Trial

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2021 Dec 1;7(12):e31657. doi: 10.2196/31657.


Background: Recruiting large samples of diverse sexual and gender minority adolescent and young adults (AYAs) into HIV intervention research is critical to the development and later dissemination of interventions that address the risk factors for HIV transmission among substance-using, sexual and gender minority AYAs.

Objective: This paper aimed to describe the characteristics of the samples recruited via social media and in-person methods and makes recommendations for strategies to recruit substance-using, sexual and gender minority AYAs, a hardly reached population that is a priority for HIV prevention research.

Methods: Using data from a randomized control trial of an HIV and substance use intervention with sexual and gender minority AYAs, aged 15 to 29 years in southeastern Michigan (n=414), we examined demographic and behavioral characteristics associated with successful recruitment from a range of virtual and physical venues.

Results: We found that paid advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, and Grindr offered the largest quantity of eligible participants willing to enroll in the trial. Instagram offered the largest proportion of transgender masculine participants, and Grindr offered the largest proportion of Black/African American individuals. Although we attempted venue-based recruitment at clubs, bars, community centers, and AIDS service organizations, we found it to be unsuccessful for this specific hardly reached population. Social media and geobased dating applications offered the largest pool of eligible participants.

Conclusions: Understanding factors associated with successful recruitment has the potential to inform effective and efficient strategies for HIV prevention research with substance-using, sexual and gender AYAs.

Trial registration: NCT02945436;

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.2196/resprot.9414.

Keywords: HIV testing; recruitment; sexual and gender minorities; substance use; youth.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Social Media*
  • Transgender Persons*
  • Young Adult

Associated data