Research recruitment using Facebook advertising: Big potential, big challenges

Posted: Jul 01, 2014
J Canc Educ. 28. 1. 134-137.
KEYWORDS: Women, Social Media, Non-Cancer


Developing ads for Facebook was easy to do, inexpensive and resulted in wide, rapid circulation. 

Why this item may be useful

In 2011, 70% of adults ages 30-49 years used social networking sites, with no significant differences in race, ethnicity, income, education, and rural/urban location.  Facebook ads allow targeting based on age, gender, location, interests and activities. This pilot study used Facebook as an exclusive mechanism for recruiting women ages 35-49 residing in the USA into a health-related research study. Respondents who clicked on an ad for the study were redirected to the study survey site where screening questions assessed study eligibility. A raffle (one of three chances to win a $50 gift card) instead of individual incentive was offered, based on evidence of this preference in younger adults. The institutional review board required separate web-hosting accounts for the study data and for the incentive data to prevent linking of survey data with participant identifiers. Challenges included developing engaging ads that fostered interest without biasing the sample and motivating women who clicked the ad to complete the survey. 


  • Maintaining separate web accounts for study data and for incentive data met the IRB requirements for exempt status.  
  • Of the women who clicked the ad, nine women (3.2%) proceeded past the introductory page, four did not proceed to the eligibility questions, 2 were ineligible and 3 did not complete the survey. 
  • The study describes the ad development, metric selection for performance measurement, and costs per ad.