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  • February 20

Organic Social Media Revisited



We are often asked if organic social media, not advertising on Facebook but having a study or site-specific presence on a social media channel, has a real place in patient recruitment. The simple answer is yes. Social media can be an effective part of your recruitment program, from the legal aspects of getting materials approved to the logistics of organic recruitment in a commercialized internet, executing an effective social media program may take some time and effort on your part. However, when done properly, the results will far outweigh the cost of time and money.

As we have said, nothing survives in a vacuum. Your recruitment website cannot function without the support of other tactics that drive visitors to your website and the same is true for organic social media. Whether your website has been active for a week or a year, you must do “something” to drive traffic, create activity and promote the conversation.

Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter are the primary social media channels in North America that can be used to quickly and organically drive visits to your study website. In global studies, there are many channels with excellent market penetration such as WeChat, QQ and QZone in China and VK (formerly known as VKONTAKTE) in Russia. While others are emerging in the US markets and abroad, many of the new social media channels are targeted to specific, younger markets and do not have as broad a reach as the primary channels. Additionally, many pharma companies do not allow the use of Twitter, other micro-blogging apps and chat platforms because it is difficult to control and monitor and every comment exists on the internet “forever.” Nothing can be done to moderate inappropriate comments or otherwise questionable content on your Twitter account. So that leaves Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr as the primary social media channels in the US and many other countries. [THIS CAN’T BE EMPHASIZED ENOUGH!]

But, if you would like to only work with one platform we suggest Facebook since you can easily build a page that you can moderate and they still have the largest market. You can also link other social media platforms to your Facebook account to stretch your market reach.

From a clinical trial standpoint, depending on whether your Facebook page is a static page that does not allow comments (just there for information as an “extension” of your study website), or an active page on which you invite user comments, the tactics you use to drive interaction and website visits will differ slightly. With static pages your goal should be to simply drive visits to the study website through direct linking, which is simply a matter of including a link to the study website in your post. In an active social media environment you can both drive visits to your study website and spur activity and interest directly on your Facebook page. Regardless, moderation of content is key to success.

The following is a recent example of how Facebook and Twitter can extend the success of another tactic.

One of our sites in a large US-only study had arranged an interview on a local television news program about the study condition, its impact during the holidays, and the clinical trial opportunity that they proposed. They managed to get the study website link mentioned in the interview and the investigator and study coordinator were both interviewed for the news story.

ICTS posted the link to the news story on the trial’s Twitter (this client allows the use of Twitter) and Facebook pages the same day the story aired. In one week the site received 33 referrals listing News Video as the source and an additional 11 referrals listed Facebook or Twitter. A simple, organic social media posting extended the impact of the principle tactic by 33%.

Social media does not work on its own. It requires time and attention to successfully impact your trial. Social media can serve your study well if you keep a few simple things in mind:

1. Build a moderated page if you are able, this creates the ‘social” aspect of your page

a. Make sure you turn on notifications so you can delete inappropriate posts immediately

2. Have something to say that is timely and interesting to the people you are trying to engage

a. Link news articles to keep the content fresh

3. Be aggressive within the timeframe to capitalize on existing impact

4. Link channels together to create circular marketing

5. Video is the strongest medium for social media content

6. Mix national posts with local posts to create relevant social interaction

7. Build a list of words/pharases you will not allow in posts to prevent visitors from posting profanity or otherwise questionable comments

8. Create a list of conditions for users to follow and police it regularly

9. Create links on your website to tie into your social media channels

10. Make sure you get full IRB/EC approval for the content of any page you build and create your own SOPs to ensure the IRB/EC that you understand the rules of engaging potential participants through social media