Will digital ads work for my clinical trial?

Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit – the list goes on. All social media sites have eligible participants for your clinical trial, no matter how specific your eligibility criteria.

The crux is that participants might be more or less easy to find, depending on what data is available on each social media platform.

This article has been adapted from our short 14-page PDF guide. Download the full guide now – or keep reading – to find out if online social media advertising makes sense for your clinical trial.

About Wayturn

Wayturn helps researchers find participants for clinical trials through digital advertising.

To date, we have experience from 150+ trials in multiple languages, countries and for a wide variety of conditions.

Cancer, migraine, vaccines, asthma, diabetes, alzheimers, mild cognitive decline, healthy volunteers, students, infants, elderly, etc – the list goes on.

Chances are that we have experience that is relevant to your clinical trial. Benefiting from our experience is easy – we provide free cost estimates for all clinical trials. All you have to do is ask.

Send an email to our founder and CEO at Carl@Wayturn.com for more information and let’s get started.

We wrote this guide to promote knowledge in the industry and because we believe in transparency, extreme ownership and contributing to a better world through research.

1. Does Social Media Advertising Make Sense For My Clinical Trial?

The term social media encompasses a vast landscape of apps and websites that have one thing in common – they encourage sharing and socializing with both friends and strangers.

Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Reddit – the list goes on. All have millions of users and many of them are eligible for your clinical trial, no matter how specific your eligibility criteria. The crux is that they might be more or less easy to find, depending on what data is available on each social media platform.

Openly giving details about your interests, sharing photos and joining groups gives rise to immensely detailed data that Social Media platforms sell to advertisers such as ourselves. This data is extremely useful when it comes to finding participants for clinical trials.

Advertisers (like us) use this data to show ads only to highly specific groups of people that are most likely to meet your eligibility criteria. We call this process “targeting”. Often, what makes a clinical trial costly to recruit for is either that there is no good data for us to use for targeting, or that the data available leaves us with very few people to show the ads to.

Social media advertising makes sense for your clinical trial if there is enough data available to find the participants that you need.

So what data is available? Read on to find out.

Demographic data

Age is a very common eligibility criteria. Luckily, it’s also one of the easier things to target. Facebook for example allows targeting people between 13-65+ with pinpoint accuracy. Below 13, advertisers are able to target the parents with similar accuracy, since children should not be shown ads. We have helped many studies that needed infants to find them through social media – whereas many of their other recruitment methods were unsuccessful.

There is a common misconception that people above 65 years old are not active on Facebook – when in fact they make up over 10% of their user base.

Employment data also gives rise to a wealth of options. Veterans are easy to find, and so are doctors, students or anything in between. To some extent, this also allows for finding people with different income levels and social status.

Language data is often used to find specific ethnic groups. Hispanic, Vietnamese, or any other cultural group that share a language are easy to find using social media advertising, even in English speaking countries. Especially if the ad itself is translated into the language in question so that it stands out. Most often, these groups are underrepresented in research because traditional advertising methods are not able to target by language, nor offer translated versions to the right people

Condition data

Many conditions that are studied in clinical trials have dedicated groups on Facebook, Reddit and other forums where peers exchange information and experiences. These groups are very diverse – depression, cancer, migraine, alzheimers, COVID-19, etc – are all examples of conditions that Wayturn has successfully recruited for using Social Media.

We can also find specific treatment related interests – cognitive behavioural therapy, pain medication or rehabilitation exercises.

Since there are so many conditions, the easiest thing for you is to ask us if your condition is viable for social media ads. We also provide cost estimates for free.

Behavior data

Most clinical trials exclude or include people based not only on conditions – but on behaviours or habits. For example smoking, level of exercise, intention to get pregnant, etc. All of these can be targeted to some extent using social media advertising, but it often requires experimentation and experience with the platform to do well.

Facebook in particular gathers data on people’s “Interests” which includes everything from celebrity figures, to diets and health fads. Often, these interests can be powerful ways to find people who are more likely to pass your eligibility criteria.

For example, to find people above a certain BMI, interests like McDonalds, Sugar, and Ice Cream give good results – especially if targeting an intersection of multiple similar topics

Geographic data

Most clinical trials want people only from a specific country – or city, or neighbourhood. Social media advertising excels at that.

Ads can be targeted to people within any 1-mile radius and above from all over the world.

When taken together with the other data available, it is often beneficial if the clinical trial accepts a broader geographical region. Virtual studies are often significantly easier to recruit for, because that gives us a large pool of people to filter through using additional data, whereas studies with physical clinic visits benefit from only reaching people who are within driving distance.

Miscellaneous data

There is also data that does not fit into any of the above categories, that makes social media advertising interesting to some clinical trials.

You can reach people based on which devices they own – which can be used to find people who use specific versions of iPhone, etc. Or if your study is phone based, you can reach people who are using their phone while connected to wifi and not roaming, and are therefore more likely to be able to call you immediately for prescreening. Or reach only people who are travelling in the current area and live elsewhere.

There are a lot of possibilities to explore and it depends on your particular study. Let us know if we can help you with an obscure request – there just might be data for it

Proprietary Data

After recruiting for over 150 clinical trials in the past year, Wayturn has access to a lot of data that no other advertiser does.

This data comes from past participants and what is known as “lookalike audiences”. Basically, many social media platforms can automatically expand a given target audience to find people similar to who we have found in the past. So while the first 500 people with migraine might be difficult to find, the next 2000 are much easier because we have enough data to find people with similar characteristics.

The Short Answer

Yes, social media advertising can most likely help you find participants for your study.

To give an idea of what is possible – here is a list of conditions that Wayturn has successfully found participants for using social media ads. This list is not exhaustive.

  • Healthy volunteers for vaccine studies, as controls, dietary studies, etc.
  • Alcohol, both misuse and abstinence.
  • Depression – seasonal, major, minor, hormonal, and many other kinds.
  • Smoking – tobacco, marijuana, frequent- and non-users.
  • Alzheimer’s – Early onset, suspected and severe with caretaker.
  • Dementia – diagnosed or worried about memory loss.
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
  • Endometriosis – surgically diagnosed and not.
  • Obesity – both to include and exclude from studies.
  • Activity level – sedentary and highly active. Mountain climbers. Divers.
  • Employment status
  • Veterans – from specific branches and areas.
  • Insomnia
  • Knee osteoarthritis (OA) Page 8
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes – type 1 and 2.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Back pain
  • ADHD
  • Chronic Cough
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Eczema
  • Acne
  • Allergies – in infants, prevention and new treatments.
  • Anger and domestic abuse
  • Arthritis
  • Autism – in children and adults.
  • Diet – fiber, overeating, specific diets.
  • Cancer – Breast cancer, survivor studies, treatment side effects.
  • Herpes – oral and acute.
  • Migraine
  • Postmenopausal
  • Psoriasis
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Stress
  • Trichotillomania
  • Tooth stains
  • Swimming induced pulmonary edema (SIPE)
  • STDs
  • Sinusitis – Acute and chronic

If you’re in doubt, shoot us an email and ask. We’re happy to help!

2. Which social media platforms should I advertise on?

As we have seen in chapter 1 above, there is a vast amount of information available when running digital ads. However, the data varies from platform to platform. Youtube does not have the same targeting options and data as Facebook. Another thing that varies greatly is the number of users and how active they are.

Facebook is the largest social media platform, and also the one with the most data available to advertisers. The users are active and of all ages. Facebook also shares ad platform with Instagram and Facebook messenger, plus their extensive advertising network in apps and partner websites.

We start advertising all clinical trials on Facebook and their partner platforms (Instagram, messenger, and the facebook advertising network). However, many larger or longer running studies benefit from running on multiple platforms. Youtube, Reddit and Craigslist often work very well.

Take a look at the graph below for more data on the number of users for each platform.

Number of Active Users in Millions (jan 2022)

Global social media ranking

3. How do social media ads compare to other kinds of clinical trial recruitment?

Social media advertising is very different from traditional TV, print and radio ads. Here are a couple of highly relevant points for clinical trials.

Social media advertising is:

  • Highly trackable. We know how many people saw the ad, clicked it, and who took what action. This is not the case for traditional ads.
  • Easy to combine with automatic prescreening. While you can direct both social media and traditional ads to call a phone number, only the former can easily lead participants to a survey to answer questions online. That way, Wayturn usually supplies all clients with pre-screened, highly qualified referrals so that no time is wasted on the phone.
  • Highly flexible. Does your study need an even distribution of males and females? Young and old? A particular ethnicity? Social media ads can have their targeting changed on the fly, so that you enroll only the participants you need. This is not true for traditional ads.
  • Controllable by budget. Are you getting too few participants? Or too many in a given week? With Social media advertising, referral rate can be scaled up and down depending on your needs.
  • Highly targeted. With traditional advertising, your targeting options are limited. Using social media ads we have all the data discussed in chapter one of this guide at our disposal.

Because of these benefits, Clinical Trials are almost uniquely suited for Social Media Advertising. No other industry can take full advantage of all the available data in quite the same way.

Since most other advertisers look to sell products and services, it also means that Clinical Trial ads stand out on these platforms, and do not compete head to head for the same audiences – unlike for TV, print, radio etc, where the lack of detailed targeting means that all advertisers compete.

In the end, social media advertising means cheaper total enrollment costs for your clinical trial.

4. What does it cost to find clinical trial participants with Social Media Ads?

Social media advertising costs are usually based on real-time auction systems between all advertisers that want to show ads to the same people. These costs are measured by CPM (Cost per Mille, or Cost per 1000 people).

CPM’s start around $5 and go up to around $100, largely depending on how attractive to other advertisers the people you want to reach are. An affluent area will be more expensive. People with higher spendable income will be more expensive. Also, most often, using a lot of data and targeting a smaller number of people will be more expensive.

As such, the cost to show your ad to a given number of people is highly variable.

The second factor that affects cost is how attractive your clinical trial is to join. If everyone who sees your ad ends up joining your study, then costs will be very low indeed – however, this is never the case. We commonly see anywhere from 0.5 – 5% click on the ad, and then 5 – 15% of those end up taking action to join the study.

Final costs therefore depend on how well the ads are targeted using the available data, and how well the clinical trial is presented and explained to the people seeing the ads.

Wayturn can estimate total costs and take care of everything for you. We estimate costs up front for free and write all promotional materials to send to your ethics committee / IRB once you are ready to move forward.

5. How do I get started?

Getting started is easy. But mastering social media advertising alone is hard.

You compete with big brands, advertising agencies and whole industries that depend on effective ads to stay afloat.

Knowledge is also quite industry specific. Strategies that work well in e-commerce or for local businesses do not necessarily work for clinical trials.

Like most skills, specialization makes for more efficient outcomes. Wayturn is specialized in more ways than one – we run only digital ads and only for the clinical trial industry.

Get the help you need

Wayturn aims to build long lasting relationships with Academic and industry research sites as well as sponsors – to be the obvious choice when it comes to reliability, service and enrollment rates.

We try to always offer a guarantee on a specific number of referrals, and in that way we take on most of the risk. All you have to do is decide how many enrollments you need, and we take care of the rest.

Analyzing your clinical trial and estimating costs is part of the work Wayturn does for you upfront, free of charge.

Simply contact our CEO and founder at carl@wayturn.com and share all eligibility criteria for your clinical trial, as well as any supporting documents you have available. Analysis takes 4 business days, and then you get the opportunity to discuss eventual next steps.