March 7th, 2018

Social Media and Clinical Trial Recruitment – New Insights and Best Practices

social media clinical trial recruitment best practices

Clinical trials are increasingly relying on social media as a patient recruitment engine – but are they utilizing it correctly?

As we move deeper into 2018, one thing is crystal clear: Social media is no longer merely a buzzword, trend, or novelty – it’s become an integral part of nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Today, approximately 74% of internet users are active on social media. Of that group, nearly 80% use social platforms to seek out health-related information.

This represents an opportunity for clinical trials to connect with a massive, effectively captive audience; however, only about 11% of clinical trials are currently leveraging social media as a patient recruitment engine. Considering that today, 37% of investigator sites still fail to meet recruitment goals (10% fail to recruit a single patient), it follows that trials need to explore new options and tactics in order to improve results.

Social media in particular offers a number of unique benefits and possibilities that more traditional recruitment channels do not; namely, a direct line of communication with a highly relevant and engaged audience, the ability to target users based on demonstrated inclusion/exclusion criteria, and flexibility in terms of scaling your ad spend in accordance with need and/or performance.

Which Social Media Channels Are Best for Clinical Trial Recruitment?

When it comes to recruiting patients for clinical research studies, Facebook is the undisputed king. In addition to having the largest monthly active user base of any social platform (2.2 billion as of Q4 2017), it boasts a wide array of powerful targeting tools, which allow you hone in on incredibly niche patient segments based on their demonstrated interests and past actions on the site (liking relevant posts and/or groups, for example), as well as key demographic data such as age, gender, location, and more.

When campaigns are set up correctly, the outcome is typically fewer patient leads overall, but those that do come through tend to do so quickly, and to be of a much higher quality. This translates to hard cost savings in the form of shorter enrollment timelines and less wasted ad dollars overall. Unlike traditional media campaigns, you can set up your ads on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, meaning you’re only being charged when a prospective participant actually clicks on your ad.

What’s more, you can turn campaigns on, off, or scale your spend in accordance with performance and/or investigator site need. For example, after setting up an ad campaign and securing IRB approval, you can wait to launch said campaign until you identify a particular site is in need of additional recruitment support. You can then choose to turn that campaign on and scale your spend to meet their level of need and maintain an adequate pace of enrollment. Once that need has been met, you can turn the campaign off again, thereby avoiding unnecessary investment and increasing ROI.

The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Do Social Media Recruitment

While social media itself is designed to be user friendly, running ads can be somewhat complicated. There are a number of different factors that must be considered and/or mastered in order to create and execute a successful campaign, including ad formats, targeting tools, complying with Facebook’s rules and guidelines (as well as those of external regulatory bodies), general best practices (messaging, image selection, etc.), and performance monitoring, among others.

Of course, many sponsors and CROs lack the internal knowledge and/or bandwidth to generate optimal results using social media and other digital media channels. In other words, in today’s highly competitive digital advertising landscape, it’s no longer enough to simply allocate some budget to “digital” and hope for the best. Tangible ROI in the form of reduced spend for more qualified online referrals requires real expertise and active management in order to achieve.

If you’d like to learn more about social media and Facebook-driven clinical trial recruitment strategies, download the white paper below or get in touch with us directly.