The dos and don’ts of social media in clinical trial patient recruitment in 2020

Social media, in its many forms, has become an extremely important component of any clinical trial patient recruitment strategy. At any given time, with 3.5 billion users in the world scrolling through Facebook feeds, creating Instagram stories, and Tweeting out the latest news happenings, it’s easy to understand why these digital platforms make sense for engaging patients around clinical trials. Below, we share some of the “dos” and “don’ts” for clinical trial patient recruitment on social media. 

The “dos” of clinical trial patient recruitment

Research your audience: One of the most important factors in building a social media strategy for clinical trial patient recruitment is meeting your audience where they are online. Are they members of a Facebook group? Do they go deep into a subReddit? Do they engage with certain Instagram influencers? Knowing the best platforms to serve your ads will make your campaign much stronger and will help you find the right patients. Platforms like Facebook allow you to target a wide variety of behaviors and attributes, like gender, age, and interests.

Pay attention to analytics: Keeping careful track of your analytics can be critical for clinical trial patient recruitment success. Almost all platforms run thorough numbers on ads, from reach, impressions, and clicks, to overall engagement. If you notice that certain messages, images, or platforms aren’t performing as well as others, you can adjust accordingly. One of the convenient things about using social media is that you can easily pause or stop ads and amend them. If you do this, though, remember to make sure that you’re using IRB-approved creative. 

Try Instagram Stories: According to Instagram’s internal data, 500 Million+ accounts use Instagram Stories every day. When you advertise through Facebook, you also have the ability to place your ads in Instagram’s feed and stories. Instagram’s strengths are in video and photo, so if your patient population is more visually-minded, this might be a great place to connect with patients. 

A/B test: Testing ad variations and placements is an important part of any clinical trial marketing strategy. If you're using Facebook ads, for example, you can also set up an A/B test from within the ads manager. Running a well-designed A/B test may take a little extra time, but your results will be more quantifiable and you’ll have reliable data for future campaigns. Make sure you’ve accounted for many variations of copy and imagery in your IRB packets as well.

Work with a clinical trial recruitment company: This may seem obvious, but clinical trial recruitment companies are experts at researching, creating, optimizing, and executing social media campaigns. Make sure to choose a company that has proven success at recruiting in your therapeutic area (or a similar one) or during your phase of a trial. 

The “don’ts” of clinical trial patient recruitment

Don’t limit yourself to just Facebook: It’s 2020, and people are using social media now more than ever. There’s more to social media than Facebook, and each platform has its unique abilities to reach potential patients. While Facebook does own other larger social media platforms like Instagram, they’re not the only player in the game. You can run a successful social media campaign through Twitter, Quora, Outbrain, Google, Pinterest, and Snapchat. 

Don’t go broad on imagery and copy: With tons of advertising moving online, many companies wrongfully use generic imagery and copy on ads. It’s best to make sure that the creative elements of your ads are tailored to the kinds of patients you wish to recruit. For example, if you’re trying to recruit women above the age of 60, using images to reflect that will yield better engagement on ads.

Don’t ignore the comments and/or messages from patients: Potential patients often send direct messages or comment on posts or ads to find out more information. It’s not OK to merely create an ad and leave it unmonitored. Clinical trial recruitment companies often make sure online comments are addressed. They then use that data to tailor recruitment materials. It’s a win-win situation: good customer service and information to make more pointed ads.