Facebook Clinical Trial Recruitment: Strategies for Effective Facebook Advertising in Medical Research

Using Facebook to recruit participants for clinical trials is not a new concept in the medical research field. In fact, it has proven to be quite an effective strategy over the years. A trial sponsor may be studying a new therapy for women in San Antonio with BRCA1 or BRCA2, or a diet pill for men between the ages of 18 – 25; whatever the clinical trial, it can be advertised on Facebook. Clinical trial recruitment statistics suggest that this method accounts for an impressive 40 – 50% of direct-to-patient enrollment.

However, Facebook banned most types of targeted ads as part of recent privacy policy changes. These changes have raised many questions among medical researchers and sponsors, such as:

  • Is it still possible to advertise medical research on Facebook?
  • Is Facebook recruiting still an effective recruitment method?
  • How can medical ads be designed without targeting?

In this guide, we will answer these questions as well as outline some advertising strategies for creating an effective Facebook clinical trial recruitment campaign, so patients can find clinical trials for their health concerns and sponsors can meet their recruitment targets quickly and efficiently.

Can you advertise clinical trials on Facebook?

Yes, you can, and you should! Facebook is the largest social media platform, with over 2.9 billion active users worldwide. With an estimated 1.96 billion users active daily, Facebook’s mass reach is impossible to ignore, and it’s why 86% of US marketers use Facebook for advertising and 78% of consumers use it to discover products.

Not only can Facebook ads help increase your accrual rates, they can make it easier for patients to find your trial. Apart from consulting directly with their doctors, it is estimated that up to 80% of people go online for medical information related to their health condition and to find clinical trials. While Google searches do return some results regarding trials that are currently recruiting, it is typically challenging to sift through the results page due to the sheer number and breadth of results, irrelevant or unrelated results, lack of specificity, and dense language. Finding a trial that the patient is actually eligible for may be even more difficult, which is why a clinical trial ad for a study relating to their specific condition could be a welcomed sight.

Recruitment ads and Facebook advertising policies

As of its January 2022 ad policy update, Facebook no longer allows targeted ads.

As a quick refresher, a targeted ad is an ad that is selectively shown to a specific audience based on particular demographic factors or their interests. User data is analyzed and then the targeted ads appear on the social media pages of those most likely to be interested.

For example, suppose someone that has frequent migraines is searching for more information about their condition. In that case, they may have begun to see ads for different migraine treatments on their Facebook feed, before the recent ban.

The problem with such ads is that they involve collecting user data and monitoring users’ digital footprints. This raises concerns about lack of user privacy, and discrimination, amongst others. To combat these issues, Facebook removed several targeting options, and now restricts ad content that is directly or indirectly targeted according to personal attributes such as sexual orientation, gender, medical conditions, disability, physical and mental health, religious practices, and social issues.

For clinical trial ads, health, gender, and medical conditions were obvious factors of interest as they allowed for targeting ads to patients and/or their family members directly. Even though such targeted ads are no longer available, it is important to remember that these targeting options are just one aspect of advertising on Facebook.

How do I advertise my medical research study on Facebook?

Before you can begin posting recruitment ads on Facebook, you need to go through some preparatory steps, from defining your goals to understanding the Facebook ad policy. Any discrepancies or oversights here could lead to your clinical trial ads being disapproved.

Clearly define the objectives of your Facebook recruiting campaign

The purpose of any clinical trial recruitment ad is engagement with conversion, which means it needs to get people interested enough that they click through and actually sign up or contact you with any questions they may have. Generally, your ad should redirect users to a trial registration page with a signup form, contact form, or clear and updated contact information. Set realistic recruitment targets to use as benchmarks to guide you in deciding when something in your ad or campaign isn’t working and making adjustments.

Familiarize yourself with Facebook ad formats

Facebook offers several ad formats, including: image, video, collection, carousel, and instant experience. For an effective Facebook clinical trial recruitment campaign, image and video ads have been shown to bring in the most engagement.

An image ad includes a relevant image with a simple, to-the-point message and a link to click on. The more relevant the image is to your trial, the more likely it is to attract the right patient population. For example, an image centered around a person of a particular underrepresented ethnicity may appeal to patients of that demographic, helping to increase their representation in the study population. Facebook has several design recommendations and technical requirements to help you upload the right image with your ad.

A video ad can be a short story, an in-stream video, or a long-form feed video. It can be a series of images or moving pictures, with or without audio narration. In terms of creativity, the possibilities are endless. However, in order for it to be effective, always keep the needs and requirements of your patient population at the forefront. A video ad may be more appealing than an image if your target demographic is more likely to interact with video content, or if it is better able to appeal to one of their main interests.

Another important factor to keep in mind is ad placement. Options include the sidebar, newsfeed, and mobile-compatible. If your budget is tight, it is best to focus on mobile, since 98% of users access Facebook from a smartphone or mobile device. Ensuring that your clinical trial ad displays the message consistently, completely, and clearly on a mobile device, and that it looks good too, is a great start.

Remember, your Facebook advertising strategy needs to be approved

You should plan your ad content well in advance because a Facebook clinical trial recruitment campaign is subject to approvals by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and/or an independent ethics committee (IEC). The last thing you need is for your ads to be rejected after an extensive design stage, as this could cause unexpected delays.

To be safe and create a buffer, brainstorm multiple ideas and create varied content. You can mix, match, and reword messages until you have something that catches your patients’ attention and conveys professionality, but without stiff, emotionless clinical jargon. Steer clear of negative imagery, offensive language, and personal attributes. For example:

  • “Do you have diabetes?” is not allowed on Facebook anymore
  • “A diabetes clinical trial is in search of participants” is allowed

You can test your ads on Facebook by uploading them and setting the ad budget to $0. You will know within 24 hours if it is approved or not. In case it isn’t, you will have to rework the content.

Tips for effective Facebook advertising

1. Make use of different types of Facebook advertising

Facebook offers a variety of campaign objectives depending on the goals of your recruitment advertisements. These objectives include:

  • Awareness
  • Traffic
  • Engagement
  • Leads
  • App promotion
  • Sales

For your first ad, you may want to optimize it based on awareness. This way, the maximum number of people will see your ad, hopefully including some who are looking to find clinical trials for their health condition. This type of optimization can increase your reach and widen your audience.

However, awareness may not be the best metric for optimizing for enrollments. If you’re recruiting patients, you are looking for the people who find the trial a good fit for them, to also click on the ad and sign up for the trial. Known as generating leads, Facebook now allows for optimizing the Facebook ad campaign algorithm accordingly. With leads set as the objective, your ad campaign will be tweaked such that they are increasingly shown to the relevant people. If you have the resources, combining these two optimization strategies can be effective.

2. Establish conversion goals and continually reassess the performance of your recruitment ads

Set realistic enrollment targets, combining considerations of the study timeline, budget, and the number of patients needed and how restrictive the eligibility criteria are. Prior experience with recruiting can be useful for setting targets – shoot for improvements upon prior trials, but stay realistic to allow for sufficient time for recruitment.

Record and monitor your clinical trial enrollment rates by source, and then use these statistics to assess the success of your Facebook campaign. Don’t be afraid to make changes using the set of varied content you prepared for the campaign. The goal is for patients to find clinical trials that work for them.

Implementing testing models such as A/B testing is a great idea. Systematically change aspects of your campaign and landing page, like the image, content, timing, location radius, and audience – but not all at once since you won’t be able to identify which change made the difference! In A/B testing, you compare the number of enrollments or enrollment rate over a given period of time from two versions of an ad with slight differences.

3. Know your target demographic and their attitudes and behaviors

The most successful Facebook clinical trial recruitment ads are the ones that demonstrate that the study sponsor truly understands their patients, and this is greatly enhanced through in-depth research. As you set up your ads, start by defining your patient demographic, not only in terms of basic factors such as location, age, and gender, but also by gathering insights into what is important for them so that you have a patient-centric approach from the start. Some things to consider are what the patient’s priorities may be in terms of treatments, what they feel is lacking, and where they usually go to find information. A good place to gather such insights is through patient advocacy groups.


Location settings will vary significantly between clinical trials, especially if in-person visits are not required such as in the case of decentralized clinical trials (DCTs). Some patient populations may be more motivated to travel further; compensation for long-distance travel can also ease the burden placed on these patients. If location turns out to be a limiting factor, consider adopting aspects of decentralized/hybrid trial designs in your next trials (if there is flexibility for that) to allow patients to enroll from a wider geographic area by enabling at-home monitoring, telehealth (remote) study visits, etc. so they don’t need to travel to the site often (or at all!).


Age is a factor that’s already embedded within the eligibility criteria of your trial, but you can also consider the age of patients’ physicians and caretakers who may come across the ad and later bring the patient’s attention to the trial. In fact, for very young or much older patients, you may find it successful to design ads for their caretakers who are more likely to use Facebook.


Even with the latest ad policy updates, an effective Facebook clinical trial recruitment campaign is still possible. Nevertheless, be aware that even the very best ad campaign will take time. It is essential to allocate sufficient time for the recruitment process so that you can attentively plan, design, monitor, and modify your Facebook ads to help you achieve your recruitment goals efficiently.

If you’re recruiting for a trial, you may be interested in trying Power. Power is a patient recruitment marketplace where sponsors and researchers can match directly with patients who are actively looking for clinical trials. It’s super easy and takes minutes to set up - we invite you to try it out!