Enrolling healthy volunteers using digital advertising

Clinical research studies often need to enroll healthy participants. Most often within a certain demographic – parents, a particular age range, a geographical location, and so on. While the strategies for enrolling people with digital advertising in all of these demographics will be different, they have one thing in common:

A healthy participant has fundamentally different motivations for joining a research study than someone with a medical condition where a reason to join might be the hope of alleviating symptoms or even finding a cure.

In this article, we will share our best advice for enrolling healthy volunteers using digital advertising in terms of strategy, promotional materials and where to advertise. We will also share estimates for what a healthy enrollment is likely to cost given a range of factors.

Strategy Overview

Wayturn typically helps researchers enroll participants by handling the promotional material, all advertising, online prescreening and phone appointment booking. Illustrated below, we handle the first two stages.

  1. Advertising. People find out about the research study through Wayturn’s advertising, email database and other outreach.
  2. Pre-screening. People pass the online prescreening questionnaire on Wayturn’s website and book a phone screening appointment.
  3. Phone screening. The referral passes phone screening in a scheduled call with the research team.
  4. Clinic Screening. The referral passes clinic screening in an in-person visit, and then enroll in the research study.
A standard recruitment funnel used by Wayturn’s clients.

While all four stages are important, improvements made to the top of the funnel have a bigger impact on final enrollment costs and enrollment speed. That is why Wayturn focuses on helping researchers with advertising and prescreening – and why stage 1 is the focus of this article.

Bringing the cost of a referral at stage 1 down from $25 to $5 could result in enrollments costing 10 times less. This is because highly motivated participants are often both cheaper to find and also more likely to follow through with phone screening and clinic screening without ending up as no-shows.

To find motivated, healthy participants we need to understand their motivations for joining research studies in the first place.

Why do healthy people enroll in research studies?

During pre-screening, we always ask why someone wants to join a particular study. This lets us track which motivations lead to enrollments, and which often lead to no-shows during phone and clinic screening.

From this primary data, we know that healthy people join research studies because:

  1. They want to be compensated. This is a strong indicator of enrollment success – but only if the amount is specific and high in relation to the effort required. For lower amounts, these referrals tend to be of low quality and often miss phone calls.
  2. They support the research goals, because of personal experience and/or connection with someone who is affected, or will be helped by the study. This is usually a strong indicator of intent to follow-through with phone calls and clinic screening.
  3. They are feeling altruistic. Altruism can have many reasons, but we have noticed that clinical studies with socially respectable goals, or a well-known brand, get more sign-ups quoting altruism-related reasons for wanting to join. These people seem to also anticipate social gain or respect by enrolling – as they frequently let people know about it on social media. They often share our advertisements with others.
  4. They are curious. Participating in research is an interesting experience, that in itself is attractive for some. This reason is quite weak and often leads to no-shows.

Wayturn keeps these four motivations in mind when creating different versions of the advertisements to test which works best. For most studies all strategies work to varying degrees – which means it’s worth testing all to find the angle with the lowest overall enrollment cost.

Let’s examine how to utilize each in terms of promotional material.

Promotional Materials For Healthy Volunteers

All clinical research studies would do well to submit as many images and sentences for IRB / ethics board approval as possible.

Wayturn helps all clients by putting together images, copywritten ad texts, the prescreening and website page on Wayturn’s server in a single document. Other than saving you time, this has three main benefits:

  1. Testing for efficiency is at the core of effective advertising. Wayturn needs options and variation in order to find the lowest possible cost per enrollment. Changing just one image can sometimes cut costs in half – or more. It also unlocks more audiences who are motivated to join based on different things.
  2. Lower cost per enrollment. Wayturn has experience creating promotional material for hundreds of other research studies. This means that your study will benefit from everything we have learned to date.
  3. Less hassle. Approval times are shortened and the number of additional submissions needed is reduced to a minimum.

With this in mind, here is our advice on images and texts to include at a bare minimum.

Promotional Images

These images work well for many studies – but given how diverse research studies are who need healthy participants, it’s likely that your particular study would do much better with other images that we can help you select.

However, as a starting point consider images in this style – people looking straight at the camera, with little else to distract in the background. There’s also plenty of space to include the logo of your research site – which often boosts results.

The purpose of an ad image is to catch people’s attention and make them invest the split second required to read the first sentence of our ad text and the headline – which brings us to our next section.

Promotional Texts

Written promotional material can be split up into two separate sections – advertising texts and website texts. The aim of the former is to generate interest and get people to click and read the website text. While the goal of the latter is to educate and explain in detail everything from the study background, eligibility criteria, where the study takes place and so on before visitors take the prescreen questionnaire.

Advertising texts require more testing than website texts – because once you’re on the website you’re already invested. The real crux is generating that motivation to click the ad in the first place.

Here are a couple of things that are great to mention in the advertising text to attract healthy participants:

  1. Compensation. If we’re testing this as the main motivation for healthy participants to enroll in our research study then it should be the very first sentence.

    “Participants are compensated up to $540 per research study visit.”

  2. Location. Relevant advertisements get clicked more often. Being shown an ad in a location near you instantly makes it relevant.

    “Join preventative care study in Houston”

  3. Hypothetical research questions. To find people who support the research goals, this should be the first sentence in the ad. Often very effective if paired with good targeting to an audience who will care about the topic of the study.

    “Do artificial sweeteners affect type 2 diabetes glucose control?”

  4. Demographic criteria. Again – including information to show that this research study is for a particular person, and then targeting them successfully, brings better results.

    “Researchers seek healthy men aged 40+ in Houston”

  5. Number of visits required. Detailing research study visits can help people understand if they have time to participate, and also exclude people who are just looking for easy compensation.

    “Those enrolled will attend 5 study visits over 3 months at […]”

  6. A plea to help. If we’re testing the altriusm angle, we often include a sentence like the below in the beginning, or near the end:

    “Help advance medical research”
    “Researchers need your help to […]”

  7. A call to action. All adverts need to tell people what the next step is – otherwise a large percentage of people will just read and move on. We need to prompt them to make a decision by saying:

    “Click to learn more”
    “Sign up now”
    “Visit wayturn.com/example to learn more”

  8. The name of the research center, university or sponsor. People on social media are skeptical and frequently mistrust adverts that do not look trustworthy. Putting a name, whether well-known or not, helps boost trust.

    “The University of Edinburgh is currently enrolling healthy […]”

  9. Study background information. While detailed info generally belongs on the website before the prescreening questionnaire, sometimes it’s very convincing:

    “Around 14% of Australian women suffer from endometriosis, but there is currently no known cure. Researchers seek healthy […]”

While all of the above are good to include, in practice there is not space for all in a single ad. So you end up in a situation where you need to figure out which text and image combination results in the lowest cost per enrollment. In the end, it’s all about testing, measuring and analyzing.

In general, short ads perform better than long ones – because people rarely read everything. But having more information makes people share more with friends and family and educates people better so that the prescreen pass rate is higher. It’s a matter of balance.

Where to find Healthy Participants?

Almost all digital platforms and websites work for recruiting healthy participants. However, we find that social media and our internal database campaigns tend to make for the cheapest and fastest referral sources.

Email database campaigns

Wayturn’s email database contains the contact details of past referrals, sign-ups, and visitors who have expressed an interest in joining a research study. The database is biggest in America, spread throughout all states, but exists in most parts of the world.

An email to this database often results in many enrollments – especially if the eligibility criteria are less strict, or the geographical requirements are broad. Nationwide and virtual studies tend to do very well.

Social media

For the greatest volume of referrals, social media campaigns are unbeatable. Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube are where we recruit most often for healthy participants.

One thing to avoid is hiring many different enrollment service companies like Wayturn at the same time – because costs on these platforms increase as more advertisers compete for the same audiences. For enrolling healthy participants, this is an issue mainly if your geographical location isn’t densely populated. That being said, we often compete with similar services and deliver cheaper referrals due to our experience and the quality of our promotional materials.

Healthy Participants: Cost per Enrolment

The final cost per enrolment will depend a lot on your particular research study. Healthy participants are often quite easy to find and enroll though.

As an example: In the United States, given no ineligibility criteria beyond age and location, a high compensation for effort ratio (Say $80 per hour), and a reasonably interesting research question puts an average cost per enrollment at $20 in our experience. But this figure commonly varies between $8 – $100 depending on the details of your particular study.

Factors that decrease costs:

  • Broader demographic criteria.
  • Broader geographical criteria.
  • Higher compensation.
  • Few eligibility criteria.
  • Recruiting for virtual or 100% phone studies.
  • Clear and interesting research question.

Factors that increase costs:

  • Recruiting children below 13 years old.
  • Recruiting elderly above 70 years old.
  • Having many eligibility criteria.

It’s almost impossible to give exact estimates without knowing the full details of your research study. Luckily, we offer free cost analyses for all clinical research studies – no matter the size.

To get us started analyzing the cost per enrollment of your research study, please complete this cost analysis form: