Using different Facebook advertisements to recruit men for an online mental health study: Engagement and selection bias

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Internet Interventions, 2017, 8 pp. 27 - 34
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© 2017 A growing number of researchers are using Facebook to recruit for a range of online health, medical, and psychosocial studies. There is limited research on the representativeness of participants recruited from Facebook, and the content is rarely mentioned in the methods, despite some suggestion that the advertisement content affects recruitment success. This study explores the impact of different Facebook advertisement content for the same study on recruitment rate, engagement, and participant characteristics. Five Facebook advertisement sets (“resilience”, “happiness”, “strength”, “mental fitness”, and “mental health”) were used to recruit male participants to an online mental health study which allowed them to find out about their mental health and wellbeing through completing six measures. The Facebook advertisements recruited 372 men to the study over a one month period. The cost per participant from the advertisement sets ranged from $0.55 to $3.85 Australian dollars. The “strength” advertisements resulted in the highest recruitment rate, but participants from this group were least engaged in the study website. The “strength” and “happiness” advertisements recruited more younger men. Participants recruited from the “mental health” advertisements had worse outcomes on the clinical measures of distress, wellbeing, strength, and stress. This study confirmed that different Facebook advertisement content leads to different recruitment rates and engagement with a study. Different advertisement also leads to selection bias in terms of demographic and mental health characteristics. Researchers should carefully consider the content of social media advertisements to be in accordance with their target population and consider reporting this to enable better assessment of generalisability.
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