Beyond traditional newspaper advertisement: Leveraging facebook-targeted advertisement to recruit long-term smokers for research

Lisa Carter-Harris, Rebecca Bartlett Ellis, Adam Warrick, Susan Rawl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: Smokers are a stigmatized population, but an important population to reach for the purpose of research. Therefore, innovative recruitment methods are needed that are both cost-effective and efficacious in recruiting this population. Objective: The aim of the present article was to evaluate the feasibility of Facebook-targeted advertisement to recruit long-term smokers eligible for lung cancer screening for a descriptive, cross-sectional survey. Methods: A social media recruitment campaign was launched using Facebook-targeted advertisement to target age and keywords related to tobacco smoking in the Facebook users profile, interests, and likes. A 3-day newspaper advertisement recruitment campaign was used as a comparison. The study that used both recruitment methods aimed to test the psychometric properties of 4 newly developed lung cancer screening health belief scales. Data were collected via cross-sectional survey methodology using an Web-based survey platform. Results: The Facebook-targeted advertisements were viewed 56,621 times over an 18-day campaign in 2015 in the United States. The advertisement campaign yielded 1121 unique clicks to the Web-based survey platform at a cost of $1.51 per completed survey. Of those who clicked through to the study survey platform, 423 (37.7%) consented to participate; 92 (8.2%) dropped out during completion of the survey yielding a final study pool of 331 completed surveys. Recruitment by newspaper advertisement yielded a total of 30 participants in response to a 3-day advertisement campaign; recruitment efficacy resulted in 10 participants/day at $40.80 per completed survey. Participants represented current (n=182; 51%) and former smokers (n=178; 49%) with a mean age of 63.4 years (SD 6.0). Cost of the advertisement campaign was $500 total for the 18-day campaign. Conclusions: Recruitment by Facebook was more efficacious and cost-effective compared with newspaper advertisement. Facebook offers a new venue for recruitment into research studies that offer the potential for wider reach at a lower cost while providing privacy and flexibility for potential study participants. The study's findings extend recent work of other researchers who have demonstrated Facebook's utility with younger smokers, and Facebook is an effective tool to recruit older smokers. Furthermore, Facebook is a cost-effective alternative to traditional newspaper advertisement offering a new, affordable venue to recruit large numbers of older smokers efficiently.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere117
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2016


  • Facebook
  • Older
  • Recruitment methods
  • Smokers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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