Ask the Experts: The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media for Recruitment

Ashley Toy
April 28th, 2020

When defining your participant recruitment strategy for a clinical trial, it’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of the different options available. Social media is an appealing option, but also comes with some drawbacks. Hear what the experts have to say about what considerations to make when choosing social media marketing for patient recruitment.

DO: Create a meaningful message for the right audience.

DON’T: Include statements that may be perceived as causing undue influence.

Social media allows for greater segmentation, meaning advertisers are better able to target their ideal audience. When designing social media recruitment strategies, consider your study’s inclusion criteria, and write messaging to resonate with these groups.

However, while the message should be compelling, it should not be overly persuasive or make any claims that could be perceived as undue influence.

“People should feel no pressure to participate,” said Dr. Wendy Tate, Director, Research Operations at Advarra-Forte in the webinar “Effectively and Compliantly Advertising Clinical Trials”. If you are unsure whether your messaging is acceptable, communicate with your IRB. 

DO: Use social media to increase awareness and generate interest in your trial.

DON’T: Allow long delays in contacting prospective participants.

Using social media often gives researchers access to a larger pool of potential participants than other traditional recruitment methods. While this improves the odds of meeting recruitment goals, it can also lead to an influx of interested people. If the research team can’t handle the influx in a timely manner, it can lead to a decline in consented subjects.

“Best practice recommendations from long-established benchmark data suggest sites need to respond within 24-48 hours to any interest query from a prospective subject,” said Beth Harper, President, Clinical Performance Partners, Inc. in the article [Q&A] Operational Considerations When Advertising for Patient Recruitment.  “The longer the delay, the more likely the ‘hot’ lead will become ‘warm’ and ultimately ‘cold’.”

DO: Consider using social media to improve participant retention on a trial.

DON’T: Let participants fall under undue influence and therapeutic misconception, or unblind a study.

Beyond recruitment, social media can also serve as an effective mechanism for retaining study participants. Support groups and other user-generated content is effective ways for study staff to interact with participants, but they should be on the lookout for potential problems, including undue influence, therapeutic misconception, and study unblinding.

Dr. Luke Gelinas, IRB Chairperson at Advarra gives the following examples in the article Should Social Media Be Part of Your Research Toolbox?

  • If a trial participant hears others saying the investigational drug has been effective for them, it may cause them to not report a serious adverse event they are experiencing, because they don’t want to be removed from the study.
  • Two trial participants share different symptoms on social media. A member of the research staff replies, accidentally breaking the study blind by revealing which participant was receiving treatment and which was receiving placebo.

“By placing safeguards for the types of data shared, monitoring participant comment sections and communicating rules for engagement, clinical staff can minimize the risks associated with social media threatening study integrity,” Gelinas said.

Like many recruitment efforts, social media leaves a lot of gray area for study teams. Staying in contact with the IRB is the best way to navigate the ethics of social media advertising for trial recruitment.

Want to know more?

To learn more about patient recruitment advertising, including the benefits of providing valuable content on your website, how to develop a compliant email database, and methods to prepare for an influx of trial participants, watch our free, on-demand webinar, “How to Effectively and Compliantly Advertise Clinical Trials to Potential Participants.”

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How to Effectively and Compliantly Advertise Clinical Trials to Potential Participants

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