Online recruitment is an innovative and cost-effective way to reach potential participants for research studies. Through social media advertisements, researchers can recruit from a large and diverse population. However, without the face-to-face interactions and personal follow-ups that traditional recruitment methods employ, online recruitment efforts may have difficulty building the trust and credibility needed to get sufficient numbers of eligible potential study participants to complete the enrollment process. In order to recruit the desired sample size online, researchers should recruit broadly to account for drop-off throughout the enrollment process, find ways to streamline the enrollment process, and use targeted recruitment strategies.
In 2016, Child Trends began a partnership with Healthy Teen Network to recruit more than 2,300 primarily Black and Latinx women (ages 18 to 20) into a rigorous three-year evaluation study of Pulse, a web-based teen pregnancy prevention program. All recruitment and enrollment took place online, primarily via smartphones. Participants were recruited primarily through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter ads over 15 months from 2016 to 2019. Of nearly 20,000 potential participants who clicked on a recruitment ad and arrived at the study website, about 12 percent were eligible study participants who completed the enrollment process.
Based on the lessons learned in the Pulse study, we offer researchers some tips for online enrollment to recruit the desired sample size:
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