Cost-effectiveness of social media advertising as a recruitment tool: A systematic review and meta-analysis

J Clin Transl Sci. 2023 Aug 7;7(1):e180. doi: 10.1017/cts.2023.596. eCollection 2023.


Background: Recruitment of study participants is challenging and can incur significant costs. Social media advertising is a promising method for recruiting clinical studies and may improve cost efficiency by targeting populations likely to match a study's qualifications. Prior systematic reviews of social media as a recruitment tool have been favourable, however, there are no meta-analyses of its cost-effectiveness.

Methods: Studies evaluating recruitment costs through social media and non-social media methods were identified on MEDLINE and EMBASE. Articles were screened through a two-step process in accordance with PRISMA guidelines. Cost data were extracted from selected articles and meta-analyzed using the Mantel-Haenszel method. The primary outcome was the relative cost-effectiveness of social media compared to non-social media recruitment, defined as the odds ratio of recruiting a participant per US dollar spent. The secondary outcome was the cost-effectiveness of social media recruitment compared to other online recruitment methods only.

Results: In total, 23 studies were included in the meta-analysis. The odds ratio of recruiting a participant through social media advertising compared to non-social media methods per dollar spent was 1.97 [95% CI 1.24-3.00, P = 0.004]. The odds ratio of recruiting a participant through social media compared to other online methods only was 1.66 [95% CI 1.02-2.72, P = 0.04].

Conclusions: Social media advertising may be more cost-effective than other methods of recruitment, however, the magnitude of cost-effectiveness is highly variable between studies. There are limited data on newer social media platforms and on difficult-to-reach populations such as non-English speakers or older individuals.

Keywords: Social media; cost; meta-analysis; recruitment; systematic review.