From skyrocketing Research and Development costs to a lack of exposure to
patients, there are many barriers that the clinical trials community faces. Clinical
trials are conducted or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, voluntary
groups, academic medical centers, and other health care providers. According to
a study done by Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development, Enrollment
timelines have been extended by two-folds1
for clinical trials due to not effectively recruiting patients with traditional
methods. Almost 89% of current clinical trials are not utilizing digital and
social media market to recruit patients2.
Social and digital marketing techniques have been at the forefront of advertising
in other industries, comprising about 28% of all US advertising spend in 20153.
Social media marketing is quickly becoming one of the most poignant,
cost-effective channels to tap into the medical audience. This paper will
discuss why social media marketing is an ideal channel to target patients for
clinical trial recruitment with three main advantages: volume, targeting
capabilities, and performance tracking & optimization.
Three Main Advantages of Social
Media Marketing versus Traditional Methods
Approximately 69% of U.S. adults are active on at least one social media
yet the key will be investing in the platforms that allow for the greatest
impact on target patient market. The ideal social marketing platform must have
the capabilities of adaptable and efficient ad spending, high targeted advertising,
and innovative performance tracking abilities. The social media platform that
will focus on in this paper is Facebook due to the fact that it fills all the
requirements above, making it an vital tool for recruiting qualified patients. The
three main advantages of utilizing social media channels versus traditional
patient recruitment for clinical trials are volume, targeting capabilities, and
performance tracking & optimization.
According to Pew, 80 percent of Internet users are seeking healthcare information5
and 62 percent of US adults with a chronic condition are using the internet.
This high engaged population uses penalty of search engines such as Google,
Yahoo, etc., but also are part of social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube,
and Twitter. Looking specifically just at Facebook, it has around 1.86 billion
active users as of December 20166.
Facebook and its auxiliary brands represent three of the most popular social
Facebook has a
vast majority of patient with a given condition (and their caregivers) are now
on Facebook’s platform. In the chart below there
are various examples of the many conditions and their population on Facebook.
Type 2 Diabetes
Table 1- Source: Pew Research Center6
Digital marketing is one of the most targeted type off media content available.
On these online platforms, there is geographic targeting, demographic
targeting, and interest-based targeting. The key for success in social media
marketing is market segmentation. Market segmentation is the process of
grouping into clusters of consumer (patients), who have similar wants or needs
(treatment) to which an organization can respond by tailoring one or more
elements of the marketing mix. Facebook offers a number of tools that are
perfect for targeting those patients suitable for clinical trials. In order to
maximize a healthcare organizations’ return
on investment, the marketing most be precise to target the most qualified users.
These are some of the sociodemographic segmentation areas targeted by digital
clinical trial recruitment.
Gender: if a clinical trial has a
specific gender requirement, the ad can be targeted towards that criteria.
Location: Selecting patients from
different countries, states, counties, cities, even down to addresses is
possible by creating a designated marketing area
Language: A recruiter can target a specific minority or population based on
their language preferences. For example, if the study was searching for
primarily Latino patients, then one may select “Spanish”.
Ethnicity: Facebook has unique algorithms that analyze the users behavior and
assign them with an “ethnic affinity” such as Caucasian, African American, Asian American,
Age: This one of the most important criteria in clinical trials, especially
in studies with age-related exclusion or inclusion criteria.
Considering FDA’s increasing emphasis on ethnically representative
patient populations, Facebook’s wide
demographic reach makes it an ideal tool to help
manage participant diversity and secure approval quickly and efficiently.
Performance Tracking and Optimization
If properly utilized, social media
platforms are the most trackable tool available. Specifically, within Facebook,
they have powerful set of data analytics and performance monitoring tools. There
are easy to read summary reports that are updated constantly. They can
breakdown user by age, where they are viewing the ad, what type of device they used,
time of day, and much more7.
These are just a few of the factors that are taken into consideration when
conducting an environmental scan. The scan involves the regulatory, social,
technological, economic, and competitive factors to which an organization
should be sensitive to. The following metrics are available for clinical trial
Metrics related to ad messaging, page posting, media, clicks, and general interest
Performance: Metrics include results, user
reach, frequency, and impressions
Settings: Metrics include ad set name, start
name, end date, ad delivery, and objective
Report, Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, Vol. 15, No. 1, Tufts
“Industry Usage of Social &
Digital Media Communities in Clinical Research.” Tufts
Center for the Study of Drug Development. June 2014
Ingrid. “Digital Ads will be 22% of all U.S.
Ad Spend in 2013…” TechCrunch, Sept 30, 2013
Maeve, et al. “Demographics of Key Social Networking
Platforms.” Pew Research Center:
Internet, Science & Tech, 9 Jan. 2015
Internet & American Life Project, 2010
Maeve, et al. “Demographics of Key Social Networking
Platforms.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech,
9 Jan. 2015
Anjali et al. “Clinical Trial Management of Participant
Recruitment, Enrollment, Engagement, and Retention in the SMART Study Using a
Marketing and Information Technology (MARKIT) Model.” Contemporary
clinical trials 42 (2015): 185–195. PMC.
Web. 8 Dec. 2017.