Social Media for Clinical Trial Recruitment

We know we we should be doing it, right?

Instead of spending most of your budget on print or physical ads, we could be doing strategic, hyper-targeted, hyper-relevant recruiting across our digital channels.

We can use different tools available across social channels to reach specific populations needed for recruitment. This can be done by using Facebook ads, keyword searches by zip code, or upload our community outreach e-mail distribution list to re-target the people we need. Then, we can test things like Instagram ads to gauge engagement interest over on-site conversion.

But you knew all of that. So, what's stopping us?


For many scientists and health care administrators, the term "social media" brings with it horror stories of lawsuits, HIPAA violations and information privacy breaches. The clinical trial space is especially susceptible to this.

-What if you face ramifications from posting an ad and people start asking medical advice?     
-What if fans or followers start over-sharing details of their disease that puts their privacy at risk?
-What do you do if someone interprets the use of your recruitment language and expect to be “cured?”

These are real, legitimate concerns. And you'll need to talk through them at-length with your own IRB council, research and digital leadership. We must be prepared to mitigate risk and de-escalate sensitive recruitment issues in real-time, just as we do in the rest our social media work now. 

2. Platform Limitations

If we could ask the social media gods one thing, it would be this: Stop making it so dang hard for us to help the people who really need it.

In the past, Facebook has rejected some of our team's ads, if they've use the word "suffer" or show a physiological image, calling it "pornographic." What?

Twitter stops our clinical trial promoted tweets in their tracks, regulating and blocking them by their "pharma policy.”

The platforms, themselves, are a barrier to our progress.

But we have faith, naive as it may be, that with each new feature or algorithm update, Mark Zuckerberg will come to understand the bigger risks of not accommodating this important work.

3. Process and Resourcing

We need the IRB's OK for any promotional copy going out around our research, which includes Facebook ads and tweets. And you've got a whole lot of researchers, who need to be doing world-changing science.

Do you expect those scientists to also know how to write 90 characters of engaging social copy, with a compelling call-to-action and relevant hashtag - before they put their project through for IRB approval?

Absolutely not. That's your social team's job. But they have customer service, crisis and community management, and robust content development to take care of. So, where does that leave us?

(Hint: You'll probably want to consider developing some kind of "social media toolkit" for your research teams. University of Arizona has a nice one.)


We're mired in the muck of poor process

We've talked "breaking down internal fiefdoms" before, but this really is the largest impediment to our making the most of digital clinical trial recruitment.

We're going to have to move people around, add more to the plates of folks who are already quite busy (i.e. your social squad, your research administration, your legal team), before we get a streamlined process in place.

It's going to be a hard-sell internally. It's going to be more work before it becomes less. It's going to require hiring more people.

But we promise you, in the long run, it will save your institution big dollars.

Most importantly, it will change the future of healthcare.

Find important FDA guidelines for recruitment here and here.

*This post originally published on LinkedIn.

4 must-haves in a community manager hire

It's time to invest in social media. The online conversation is building and your business needs a dedicated in-house resource, tasked with managing and building your online reputation. 

Nearly all of today's grads and junior-level communicators will claim "social media expertise" on their resumes, so how do you know what to look for in your new hire?

How can you tell the difference between a strategic social marketer and a self-proclaimed social pro?

1. They're a great writer.

A University of Oregon professor insisted to her guest lecturer, Jess Columbo:

"Please," she said, "remind them that good writing matters - even in your world."

Real social media strategists know that 90 characters doesn't mean creative, engaging, grammatically correct content goes out the window. On the contrary! Your ideal hire will have love and respect for the written word and a portfolio of blog posts, web copy and/or social editorial content to prove it.

2. They do free work.

Look for a hire, who has developed and applied their strategic social skills as a volunteer in their community. This can be especially important for younger pros, who should be building their skill-set by offering social marketing help to non-profits or community organizations they're passionate about. Plus, their volunteer experience will likely tell you a lot about their character.

3. Their content creation game is on point.

Your community manager should be the definition of a T-shaped hire: An employee with a broad range of skills, who has depth of expertise in one particular area. In addition to social media proficiency, they might also be skilled with Photoshop or InDesign. Maybe they're adept with video editing tools.

These added creative skills will go a long way to supplement your lean in-house resources.

4. They're friendly with Google Analytics.

It is important that everyone on your web team to have the ability to jump in to the back-end of your web properties, pull socially-relevant data, and craft coherent “stories” for stakeholders from those analytics.

Your new hire can't be scared of data: It's not math. It's archaeology. And they should love to dig for stories, unearthing the insights hidden beneath those referral and conversion metrics that drive real business growth.


Are you ready to hire an in-house superstar? Need help with recruitment? We can help.