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Five rules for recruiting clinical trial participants on social media

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Sep 12, 2022 12:00:00 AM

Most social media platforms are free and have the potential to reach millions -- even billions -- of people. This makes them a perfect way to recruit for clinical trials.

But there are some important things to keep in mind before diving in to social media recruiting.

1. Get to know your future participants.

A helpful article from MedCity News suggests doing research into your ideal type of trial participant. This includes which social media platforms they prefer and what people, topics, and hashtags they follow. The good news is, a good deal of this information can be gleaned from online searches for marketing statistics.

2. Keep up with social media trends and platforms.

We all know about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But social media is an ever-changing landscape.

Nowadays, for instance, TikTok, a social media platform that’s often written off as only being for young people or just a way to show off amateur dance choreography, has actually become an important way for medical professionals and patients to engage audiences.

While posting on TikTok is a bit more involved than these older, better-known platforms, it could be an excellent way to find participants, especially if you’re interested in finding participants among Gen Z internet users, who make up 90% of TikTok’s audience.

Once you’ve chosen your social media platforms, it’s also a good idea to look at topics and hashtags that are trending. If you find some related to your trial subject, participate in the challenge or add a hashtag to your own posts that will draw in interested users who may make perfect participants.

3. Speak your target trial participants’ language.

The author of the MedCity News article, Health Research Communications specialist Catherine Freeland, offers another important pointer: On social media, language is everything. Recruitment posts don’t necessarily have to include trendy slang, but it’s a good idea to look at influencers and other popular accounts related to your field to see what the general language is like.

Some online-influenced lingo may crop up in your posts, but remember to stay away from excessive use of medical jargon. Freeland reminds researchers: “Terminology that is commonplace in your field… may not be commonplace for your audience.”

Medical jargon can be alienating for patients and laypersons alike. This is especially important to remember in the social media world, where posts that don’t catch people’s attention and make a connection will fall flat.

Freeland also suggests translating social media posts into languages other than English, to get more reach for recruitment. If you do that, though….

4. Think “transcreation.”

If you want to take your social media posts multilingual, an adequate translation probably won’t be enough. In order to be sure you’re connecting with your audience and really “speaking” to them with more than just words, you’ll need to work with someone or a team of someones with transcreation skills - that is, the ability to translate, as well as to adapt content for a particular culture.

This can involve anything from finding the perfect equivalent to a pop culture reference, to using a particular culture’s hottest new memes, to understanding that certain cultures use common symbols differently and may read things like comic panels in a direction other than left-to-right.

5. Be committed.

When you’re online for recruiting purposes, it may seem easy enough to publish a few posts or two and then wait for the responses and results come in. But Freeland points out that social media is about constant engagement.

She advises continuing to post to social media accounts for the duration of recruitment, and to engage with your audience by answering messages and replying to comments.

It’s also a good idea to interact with other posts as well. For instance, use relevant hashtags to find posts and trends related to your study, and comment on, “like”, share, or react to them. This gives your account a chance to get noticed and reach an even wider audience. You may also want virtually network - for example, by reaching out to accounts for patient advocacy groups.

Whether you choose to get deeply involved or just do the bare minimum, never just post once and then leave your audience hanging. It will look careless and unprofessional at best, and may come off as a sign of hypocrisy or simply not caring, at worst. And that truly is “the worst”, since engagement is incredibly important to people who use social media, especially younger generations, who put a high value on authenticity and connection.

So, find someone on your team - or even consider hiring a social media manager or intern - to keep your social media accounts active as long as recruitment lasts, and maybe even longer!

Social media may be free and, in most cases, easy to use, but using it effectively for clinical trial recruitment takes preparation and commitment. The good news is, getting it right can be even more rewarding than the feeling of going viral!

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