May 8th, 2017

What’s the Best Digital Ad Platform for Clinical Trial Recruitment: Facebook, Google, or Both?


Clinical trials are increasingly relying on digital advertising for patient recruitment – but which platforms are the most effective?

By now, I think it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of sponsors, CROs, and investigator sites recognize the value of digital media as a patient recruitment engine for clinical trials. However, few understand that digital marketing is a complex and nuanced endeavor, and in order to achieve optimal results, each ad platform must be handled differently.

This article will explore some of the key differences between the two most prominent advertising engines of the day: Facebook and Google. Together, they’ll lay claim to a combined 57% of the total U.S. digital ad market in 2017. Google will increase its share of the search engine ad market to 78%, while Facebook continues to rule the display ad market with a 39.1% stake in the total U.S. display revenue this year.

Facebook vs. Search – How Are They Different?

Technical considerations aside, the key differences between advertising on Facebook and advertising on Google have to do with user mindset and intent. The way patients utilize the two platforms varies considerably, which not only necessitates differing strategies in order to achieve optimal outcomes on each, but also presents the opportunity to accomplish a wider range of recruitment goals.

Broadly speaking, search engine advertising involves targeting “active” patients, or those patients who have taken control of the decision-making process and are actively seeking information and/or treatment options for an existing condition.

Conversely, patients generally use social networks like Facebook for community support, sharing information, or receiving advice from their peers. But while they typically aren’t using the platform as an “active” research tool, that doesn’t mean they won’t ultimately be receptive if presented with an opportunity to participate in a study.

In fact, Facebook provides sponsors and CROs with the ability to reach an audience that may not even be aware that clinical trials are a viable treatment option. In other words, you proactively deliver the information directly to your target patients, rather than waiting for them to come to you (i.e. by entering a relevant query into Google).

Weighing the Options

The point is, one platform isn’t objectively better than the other – they’re just different.

It’s also important to remember that every clinical trial and condition has unique considerations that must be taken into account, and as such, the performance of a given media channel may vary from trial to trial.

When outsourcing digital recruitment, sponsors and CROs should make sure their vendor has experience running clinical trial campaigns using all of the most up-to-date tactics, media formats, and online advertising channels. Achieving optimal results demands a media mix custom-tailored to your trial’s target audience and qualification criteria – not a one-size-fits-all approach.

In an increasingly competitive digital landscape, capturing the attention of your target audience depends on not only maximizing your trial’s visibility across as many channels as possible, but also your ability to do so in a cost-effective and non-invasive manner. Only once you’ve got a firm grasp on each digital advertising platforms’ unique considerations – both in terms of the typical user mindset and its technical capabilities – will you be able to build a comprehensive digital strategy that really delivers.