Considering a social media campaign for your clinical trial? While there are proven advantages to using social media as a patient recruitment tactic, additional considerations must be explored when deciding if social media fits your campaign’s needs. First, scope out your audience by evaluating the opportunity with a social media listening program. For example, how active and engaged is this study community on social media? Or, how many Facebook groups, outlets, etc. are out there for these patients to find each other? Next, evaluate the outlet – What are all my options when building a social media page? Or, what outlets can I use if I just want to advertise?
Once you're able to get a pulse on your audience and outlet options to guide your social media efforts, it is also important to consider three major challenges when implementing social media as a tactic and how to best respond to these challenges in order to maximize your patient recruitment efforts:
As one would expect, social media is about sharing, and it is this free flowing interaction that can be a cause for many concerns like protecting patient privacy, study integrity, therapeutic bias, the possibility that patients can un-blind themselves, and so on. It is difficult to achieve the natural spontaneity of social media interactions when all communication from one side has to be approved by an institutional review board (IRB) or ethics committee (EC).
With all these restraints, it's even more important for sponsors to bring the right expertise to appropriately communicate with patients online. While regulatory constraints may not allow sponsors to freely communicate with patients via social media, any or all feedback received by listening to and informing those patients still provides crucial and insightful information necessary to shift and develop your plans for responding to patient activity relative to your social media recruitment campaign.
When it comes to establishing an online presence for your study, employing social media as a tactic takes time and requires plenty of dedication and promotion. For example, building a Facebook page for your study is a quick and effective tool to support your campaign, but it requires constant upkeep, new content, and monitoring. To some, this can be daunting, time-consuming, and may not produce immediate results; however, with almost 75% of adults using the Internet as a resource to get health information, this majority is also using social media to listen, chat, and share personal healthcare experiences regarding clinical trial participation.
So you've built your Facebook Fan Page or established your study blog, but now what will you say on it, what can you say on it, and who should say it? Keeping patients interested and engaged requires fresh and informative content as well as carefully crafted messaging to get them talking about your study while remaining in-line with regulatory guidelines. It is also important to consider content contributions from different audiences such as the sponsor or advocacy groups to keep your page buzzing.
Just like any tactic in the patient recruitment arena, social media may not be right for every clinical trial out there. Many studies have not incorporated social media into their patient recruitment efforts and that's okay. Some will never use social media and that's okay too. What's important is to evaluate the opportunity, understand the challenges, and respond accordingly. If social media is the right fit for your study and it makes sense, then go for it!