Clinical Trial Patient Recruitment and Social Media: 5 Common Mistakes

Social media is becoming an increasingly common element of any clinical trial patient recruitment strategy — and for good reason. There are 3.2 billion users in the world spending an average of 116 minutes a day on social media. Plus, these platforms make it possible to target specifically people who would be a good fit for your study based on their demographic factors. It can be hard to get social media patient recruitment right, and when done incorrectly, it can result in wasted time and money — and disappointed patients who screen fail trials they’re not right for.

When planning a social media campaign, avoiding these five common mistakes can help you reach the right patients for your trial:

  1. Not researching your audience. Any good clinical trial patient recruitment plan starts with thorough research of the patient population. Read about the condition online, practice social listening in patient forums, and make sure you talk to some real patients too! They can help you understand their biggest pain points, and therefore provide insights into what would motivate patients living with this condition to take part in a trial. Don’t forget, too, that patients aren’t always the only audience. Depending on the condition, you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping caregivers in mind as well.
  2. Focusing only on one channel. It may seem easiest to select Facebook, then set it and forget it. Different platforms have additional options for targeting that can make it easier for harder-to-reach patient populations. For example, Facebook may not be as effective for rare diseases or for trials with challenging inclusion and exclusion criteria. Additional platforms also give you the opportunity to test out different visuals to engage your audience, such as graphics on Instagram and Pinterest. A diverse strategy that includes a variety of social media platforms can help you reach more potential trial participants — and that’s a win for everyone.
  3. Forgetting about influencers. Ads are an effective way to get your message across, of course, but remember to factor in influencers as well. Influencers are people or organizations who have established credibility on or offline and become respected authorities about a certain condition. You can reach out to influencers while researching your audience, but it may also help to see if influencers are interested in helping you spread the word about your trial to their communities. These types of partnerships can be paid or unpaid, and are a great way to reach patients through a source they already know and trust.
  4. Not optimizing as you go. The great thing about recruiting on social media is that, unlike print or radio advertisements, you can make changes as you go. Keep careful track of your analytics, and if you notice that certain messages, images, or platforms aren’t performing as well as others, adjust accordingly. If you notice a certain eligibility criterion is causing people to fail the prescreener, address that in your copy. Do note, however, that this approach requires that you think through all the variables beforehand, as IRB review is time-consuming and you want to have your adjusted ads ready at a moment’s notice.
  5. Going it alone. You may think, “My sites have Facebook accounts, so their marketing team can handle recruiting on social.” Learning the customizations that can drive consents and limit costs takes time, and ongoing optimization is a large effort. Hiring outside experts to handle your clinical trial patient recruitment on social media will allow you to quickly and efficiently move patients through the funnel.