Using Social Media for Patient Recruitment: How to Reach Your Ideal Patient  

Social media is an increasingly popular mode of communication. By 2019, it is estimated that around 2.77 billion people worldwide will have active social media accounts.1 This means that patient recruitment must have a space in the social media world, but with so much information competing for users’ attention online, is it enough to simply place an ad or create a post about your study? While we have written about Facebook’s potential for patient recruitment in previous articles, this post will discuss how to let your ideal patient guide your social media recruitment efforts across a variety of social platforms.

Building Sample Patient Profiles

One helpful way to narrow down the types of social media campaigns that would be most helpful for your recruitment efforts is to build out sample profiles of the patients your study is seeking. The best way to go about doing this is to build out the ideal patient’s demographics and then consider the potential lifestyle and behaviors of that prospective patient.

Building patient profiles provides a roadmap for approaching a campaign with the patient’s perspective in mind. This allows you to better understand the needs of the patient and will help you recognize what incentives might drive patients to participate in your research study. Of course, patient builds are generalizations and won’t cover every patient or patient scenario, but they can help to provide some clarity on the advertising areas you might best be able to use to find the patients your study is designed to help.

Example Patient Profile Builds

Let’s look at two examples of potential patient profiles from two common patient populations in clinical research.

Example 1: Young Adult Female

For this example, let’s imagine that our study is seeking female patients between the ages of 18-24.

As a woman in this age demographic, it is possible that your ideal patient is a recent graduate or young professional who may be looking for a career, and she may lack ongoing income at this stage in her life. She may live alone or with roommates and is statistically less likely than women in other age brackets to have children. As is common among members of the current young adult population, she may not have a favored medical provider. Many of today’s young adults are in varying stages of transition between the ages of 18-24; it is possible that your patient has just relocated and may not have a medical provider at all. In terms of insurance carriers, it is probable that a person in this age demographic would still be covered by her parents’ plan.

What Incentives Should You Advertise?

Consider the potential needs of the patient you have just identified. As a person likely to be in a transitional stage of life, she may have extra time available to participate in studies, but her schedule may be a bit less predictable if she does not have a standard 9-5 job. In this case, you may want to emphasize the flexibility of your study’s patient visits. Her potential lack of ongoing income may indicate that you might find success in recruitment if your ads emphasize the monetary compensation granted to participants of your study.

If this patient is without a healthcare provider, she may be in search of care for the disease or condition your study is researching. If she is covered by her parents’ health plan and is not living in her hometown, it is possible that she is having trouble finding a nearby in-network provider. Your study’s ability to provide the care she needs within her budget and proximity could be a major incentive for her participation.

Which Social Media Platforms Should You Choose?

Considering around 7 in 10 adults in the U.S. have social media profiles, and upwards of 88% of current young adults are on social media,2 it’s safe to assume that your ideal patient might frequent platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. A patient in this age group is also the most likely of any age group to utilize multiple social media platforms.

Because your potential patients may be recent graduates or otherwise in search of internships or careers, they are likely searching for jobs. Even if your potential patients are currently employed, according to Forbes, members of the young adult population tend to “job hop” more than people in other age brackets.3 Places like Indeed and LinkedIn are frequented by this demographic, so an ad stating some sort of monetary incentive could be highly advantageous if placed on these platforms.

Example 2: Older Adult Female

Let’s look at another common patient population that we come across when recruiting for clinical research studies – the older adult population. Let’s say this study is seeking female patients between the ages of 65-70.

In this example, our ideal patient is of retirement age and is likely receiving benefits such as 401K, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. She may be married or partnered and making healthcare decisions with a spouse, or she may be single or widowed, making decisions independently. She may live alone and may need assistance getting to and from doctor visits.

As is common in this age demographic, your potential patient may have multiple doctors for multiple reasons – possibly a general practitioner as well as a few specialists for any coexisting conditions. Due to potentially complex healthcare concerns, she may have exhausted all market options and might be looking for alternative treatments. It is possible that, without a fulltime job, a patient in this demographic might have the time and willingness to make visits to explore her options; however, keep in mind proximity to your site as patients in this age group often have limited travel options or capabilities.

Lastly, this patient is in the demographic most likely to have health insurance coverage.4 This is an important detail as a majority of her budget may go toward health-related costs. At age 65, the amount an individual spends on health care costs begins to increase more than at any other point in life.5 While she may be exploring her options, factors such as cost of healthcare and whether insurance can cover her treatments weigh into her decision-making.

Which Incentives Should You Advertise?

As mentioned above, it is not unlikely that most of this patient’s costs are health-related, and with limited income sources, she may not be able to afford other expensive alternatives. If your site provides study-related care and medication at no cost to participants, this could be a valuable factor in her decision to participate in your study.

Along those lines, despite multiple treatments, she may still be heavily impacted by the disease or condition you are researching. Placing an ad that emphasizes your study’s ability to provide alternative options for medical care could be a great way to draw her attention to a study that could possibly improve her quality of life.

Which Social Media Platforms Should You Choose?

Social media is often left unexplored as a recruitment method for patients in this demographic, but the increase in the number of users on Facebook who belong to the 65+ age population should not be ignored. Unlike the current young adult population, people in this age group are not likely to utilize more than one social media platform, but they tend to be very active on the one platform they choose.6 In 2017, over half of internet users aged 65 and older were active on Facebook.2 We find particular success in placing Facebook advertisements for studies recruiting patients from this population as this is one of the largest user profiles on Facebook.

Find Out What Your Patients Need

The most important factor driving patient recruitment efforts is that your patient wants and needs access to medical care for the disease or condition at your study’s focus. Understanding the complications, worries, and needs of patients living with the study’s particular condition or disease will be the most important thing you can do for the success of your patient recruitment campaign—and for the sake of the patients your study is designed to help.

Are there patient forums or online patient advocacy groups regarding the disease or condition your study is recruiting for? Become familiar with the language patients are using in these groups to describe their experiences living with their condition or disease: what questions are being asked and what issues are being discussed? Consider the ways in which your study might address these issues and provide answers to these questions, and incorporate these considerations into your social media campaign.


Social media can be an effective recruitment tool, but only if your campaign is tailored to meet the needs of your study’s specific patient population. That being said, despite its growth, social media alone may not meet all your study’s recruitment needs, but it can be a highly impactful and generally low-cost tool to incorporate into a campaign across various types of media. Building patient profiles can be a good way to determine how best to engage with your ideal patients, and can help you determine which media platforms will help you reach the most patients.