Introduction: Social media recruitment via Facebook Ads seems to be a promising method for large-scale international trials examining the effectiveness of mHealth interventions. However, little is known about this method in terms of strategy, reach, and costs in the context of psycho-oncology. This paper presents the results of the recruitment strategy that was applied in the Untire app study and shows how many participants could be reached using advertisements (i.e., Ads) on Facebook, who participated, and what it cost.
Method: The Untire app study is a randomized controlled trial targeted at cancer patients and survivors across four English-speaking countries (i.e., Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.A.). Reach was assessed by the number of people who were shown the Ads, who clicked on the Ads, and completed study assessments. Demographic characteristics were gathered from Facebook Ads Manager and from online study assessments to describe who was reached. Costs were assessed by the budget spent and the cost per click for Ads, for reaching the study's landing page, and for completing study assessments. To conduct a powered RCT, we needed 164 12-weeks assessments in both the intervention and the control group.
Results: From March till October 2018, we used 76 Ads, which were presented to 1.2 million people. 37.376 persons clicked on the study link in the Ads, resulting in 755 baseline completers. Most participants were female (92%), middle-aged (55.5 ± 9.79), and came from the U.K. (72%). The total Facebook advertisement costs from March till October 2018 were €17 k, resulting in an average cost of €0.45 per click on the Ads, €5.55 on average for a person reaching the study's landing page, and €14.89 on average per eligible participant. The costs for every baseline and 12-weeks completer were €22.42 and €47.69, respectively.
Discussion: Reaching participants for international mHealth studies in psycho-oncology via Facebook Ads has potential but is costly. The key to reducing costs lies in constant optimization and testing of Ads and refinement of target audience characteristics.