Social Media and Clinical Trial Recruitment: Friends or Foes?

The United States has the third-largest social media audience in the world, home to over 302 individual users. (Not social media accounts, social media users—one person with a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account would be counted as a single user.) That means 91 percent of Americans are using social media. And if you’re reading this blog after finding us on social media, welcome!

Social media advertising is about meeting patients where they are, which is what good recruitment is all about, and while it comes with plenty of advantages there are also drawbacks to using social media in your recruitment efforts going forward.

Why social media is important for businesses across all industries

If you’re doing business in today’s world you need a social media presence. Case in point—have you ever been browsing for a new doctor, or a realtor, or a restaurant in your area, and they don’t have a Facebook page? It’s a red flag isn’t it? According to a SurveyMonkey survey, 26% of U.S. consumers don’t trust companies without a website or social media presence.

As it pertains to patient recruitment, establishing a base level of trust is crucial. Once you’ve got that, you can take the next step and leverage social media’s ability to target specific audiences more efficiently than ever before. For example, Facebook’s audience segmentation allows you to get you in front of a network where Americans religiously spend an average of 40 minutes per day, using specific targets like recent purchasing behavior, recent life events (engagements, having a child, or buying a home) and net worth.

The benefits of social media in clinical trial recruitment

Reach is the top advantage to patient recruitment companies prioritizing social media marketing in their outreach. As of the end of 2023, there were over 4.95 billion people worldwide using social media. That’s two out of every three people around the globe. That’s a wide net when looking for participants with specific conditions, rare diseases, or infrequent illnesses to fill your next clinical trial.

The average social media user also engages with 6.7 social media platforms per month for a total of 143 minutes per day. They’re spending nearly 33% of their 6 hours and 58 minutes online usage per day on social media sites. Your patients are online no matter who they are, and they’re spending a large chunk of time on major social media platforms.

Focusing on social media is also cost-effective when compared with traditional methods of recruitment outreach. Printed mailers, community events, cold calls, and local healthcare coordination all require teams of people spending indefinite amounts of time duplicating what can be accomplished online. Combine that with the nearly limitless ad targets that Facebook and Meta offer (all with the ability to automate segmentation and A/B testing) and making social media a central tenet within your recruitment efforts seems like a win-win, no-lose situation, right?

Does social media marketing come with any disadvantages?

There are some drawbacks to a social media-centric patient recruitment strategy. Patients might be worried about sharing important health information online, and patient recruitment on social media may inadvertently leave people out who don’t have access to the internet or who don’t use social media, increasing the likelihood that your clinical study won’t meet representation benchmarks. But if recruitment companies and clinical researchers are up front in their patient communication about the importance of confidentiality and ethical responsibility, you can avoid many of these potential challenges.

Additionally, patients who come from social media marketing may or may not qualify for a particular study. Someone who responded to an online advertisement is interested in learning more about that specific study. However, unlike database patients, they have not been qualified. The best recruitment partners will bear the expense and time burden of thoroughly pre-screening patients to ensure that site time isn’t wasted. After all, it’s easier to disqualify an interested patient than to uncover a qualified patient who is also already interested.

Questions to ask to avoid social media challenges in recruitment

If you’re looking to fill clinical trials using social media advertising, and want to make sure your next recruitment company is experienced enough to steer clear of any pitfalls, consider posing these questions:

  • What social media platforms do you use to reach patients, and do you typically prioritize one over the others?
  • Does your social media strategy change based on our therapeutic area of study?
  • What is your process for making sure that creative (graphics, text copy, and call to action) are all developed in a timely fashion and working together to fill our study?
  • How much time is there between pre-qualifying patients via social media advertising and them attending their first study visit to the clinical research team?
  • How flexible are you in modifying your communication strategies based on the progress of the recruitment process?
  • Can you provide examples of how you’ve responded to negative comments and criticism about past trials?

1nHealth: Hyperlocal marketing to fill clinical trials faster

Our mission at 1nHealth is to advance human health by filling up research studies faster than anyone thought possible, while being great humans to clients, to each other, and to patients around the world. We use every tool at our disposal when it comes to finding your target audience, and that includes social media advertising, because our digital recruitment is designed with the patient in mind. But we never forget that we’re in the people business. The targeting capabilities that social media advertising provides is one of many effective tools we use to get the job done.


To learn more about 1nHealth’s approach to digital patient recruitment, contact us here.

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