Running Engaging Digital Enrollment Campaigns


Applied Clinical Trials

In this article, Moe will elaborate on how to run an effective and engaging social media campaign on Facebook.

The digital landscape is transforming the way patients interact with the biopharmaceutical industry. On the commercial side, this article suggests that patients now expect a personalized approach towards relationship management and communications, and advocacy groups and caregivers are defining their communities’ needs. The same applies towards clinical trial recruitment and patient enrollment. I have recently had the opportunity to customize social media campaigns tailored toward varying studies and have learned that generating quality leads requires a personalized effort. In this article, I will elaborate on how to run an effective and engaging social media campaign on Facebook.

Define the Target Audience 

Setting up a Facebook ad is pretty intuitive and simple for the user, as you can create targeted ads based on different demographics and interests. Categorically, Facebook includes the ability for users to target based on (a) location pinpoints and up to 50-mile radiuses from those pinpoints, (b) age, (c) gender, (d) languages, and (e) interests. Naturally, in order to target the appropriate audiences, you’ll have to review the protocol’s inclusion/exclusion criteria pertaining to age and gender, and for studies that require that rating assessments be conducted in specific languages, language targeting also needs to be considered.

Design Your Ad

When designing your advertisement, it is important to consider who you are targeting. Generally, it is a good idea to select pictures with people’s faces, as advertisements with faces tend to be more engaging compared to other images. When selecting these images, you may want to also find pictures of people who are ethno-neutral if you are living in a diverse area, as you’re more likely to engage varying ethnicities with one advertisement, however, Facebook also allows you to create a variety of different advertisements in a campaign, so feel free to include pictures of people with unique ethnicities. 

You also have to design engaging messages with your Facebook ad. On Facebook, there are three areas in which you can enter text; the ‘text’ field, the ‘headline’ field, and the ‘news feed link description’ field (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Facebook Ad Layout


Get The Ad Approved on Facebook Before IRB Submission

Facebook has received a lot of scrutiny lately due to poor advertising policies. Accordingly, Facebook has become a lot stricter with advertisement review, and I have received several disapproved ads that required me to update the language to comply with Facebook’s advertisement policies, especially pertaining to personal attributes, such as “disability or medical condition.” For example, you cannot include language which “assert or imply personal attributes… This includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s… disability, medical condition (including physical or mental health).” Basically, you cannot say, “are you suffering from depression?” instead, you can indicate “new depression study available.” Once the ad is approved by Facebook, you will, then, have to submit the ad to the IRB for approval.

Have a Social Media Management Plan When Submitting Ads to IRB

You should expect the IRB to ask you for a social media management plan. Specifically, how do you plan to manage disparaging posts, misinformation, and negativity that may detract people from engaging with your advertisement? How do you plan to capture potential adverse events as people make comments on your ads? At what frequency will you monitor posts?

Generating Quality Leads

There are different methods that can be effective at generating leads on Facebook; Table 1 elaborates on some of the ad selections that have resulted in more effective campaigns.

Facebook Ad Type

Quality of Lead





· High volume

· Easy for people to fill out

· Secure

· Integrates into CRM

· High screen fail ratio

· Limited information gathering

· People lose interest quickly

· Not very clear what people are signing up for

Link to Landing Page


· Medium volume

· Details about study

· High patient information gathering

· Pre-screening surveys = lower chance of screen failure

· People are more serious

· Still some screen failures

· Not as many people complete the prescreener/landing page questionnaires


Active Engagement/Boosted Post or Video ad


· High engagement

· Unearths patients who are likely to qualify

· Lots of comments

· Even lower chance of screen failure

· Personalized digital approach

· Low volume

· Effort consuming

· Responses need to be IRB-approved and pre-drafted

Forms is a relatively simple tool that is easy to design and is easy for patients to use. You will likely generate high referral volumes, however, patients tend not to be as serious about study participation, there is a lack of clarity regarding what they signed up for, and screen failure rates are high.

Links to landing pages are an excellent way to engage patients who are more serious about study participation, as you have the ability to require patients to complete a prescreener questionnaire. Prescreener questionnaires can convey more information about studies to patients, and if the patient has the wherewithal to complete the questionnaire, it is likely that they are interested in study participation. Additionally, this method filters out a lot of patients who do not qualify for the study.

A more engaging method is the active method. Typically, you can create one-minute videos with engaging statements about a disease and indicate that research is being done in a particular therapeutic area, encouraging people to comment on the promoted post. What is great about this method is that you can target niche patient populations and advocacy groups and unearth patients and caregivers who are actively engaged and ready to participate in research. Additionally, running a video campaign raises awareness about your other ads, if distributed in tandem with them. Furthermore, leveraging this method creates alignment with changing patient and caregiver expectations in the digital realm. However, this method takes a lot of resources, and requires IRB-approved posts.


In summary, any organization, ranging from sponsor to study site, can create their own ad campaigns for a variety of studies and still be engaging in the digital realm. Since every patient population is different, they will respond differently to the ads, and results will vary. However, by employing a toolbox of advertisements that are strategically focused and targeted on engaging distincts patient populations, research organizations are likely to succeed in their patient recruitment and enrollment approaches through digital engagement.


Moe Alsumidaie, MBA, MSF is Chief Data Scientist at Annex Clinical, and Editorial Advisory Board member for and regular contributor to Applied Clinical Trials.

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