Social Media for Research Study Recruitment

This offers information for research teams at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus that plan to use social media to recruit human subjects into research studies/clinical trials. Here's how to get started.


Decide how you will promote your study through social media (options below)


If required, fill out a Social Media Request form


Launch your social media campaign

If you have questions, please contact

Social Media Options for Research Teams

When used appropriately, social media can be an effective tool for promoting research studies to targeted audiences. There are several ways that teams at CU Anschutz can use social media to promote and recruit for research studies. The best option for your team will depend on the scope and timeline of your study and whether you have budget available for paid advertisements. Please review the available options below.

Typically, the most effective way to reach targeted audiences on social media is through paid advertisements. Paid advertising campaigns use pre-determined demographics like age, gender, location and interests to reach a specific population and display study ads in targeted users’ newsfeeds. There are two ways to place paid research study ads: Through the official CU Anschutz Research Studies Facebook page or through a third-party agency.

  1. How to place ads through the CU Anschutz Research Studies Facebook account
    Research teams that want to run paid advertising campaigns through the campus Research Studies Facebook account must first secure IRB approval and then submit a Social Media Request form. If the request is approved, the research recruitment support team will work with the investigator/staff to facilitate the purchasing and hosting of ads through this Facebook account. The cost of paid advertisements can vary widely depending on the goals, reach and length of the ad campaign. Investigators are responsible for all costs associated with campaigns in accordance with university purchasing protocols, and there are no guarantees that paid ads will result in enrolled subjects. The research recruitment support team will provide basic analytics on the campaign performance so the study team can make adjustments as needed to the budget, reach and timeframe. Note: The research recruitment support team currently has limited capacity to manage these ad campaigns. Requests will be processed on a first come, first serve basis, and some studies may not qualify for this option. Submit your Social Media Request form here.

  2. How to Place Paid Ads Through a Third-party Agency
    There are several agencies that specialize in marketing research studies through social media, such as Bump Digital Marketing. This is a good option for large-scale or long-term studies with bigger advertising budgets. If your team engages a third-party agency to manage your study’s social media ad campaign, you are responsible for ensuring that all recruitment activities are IRB approved and in compliance with the university’s social media guidelines and brand standards. All ads should be run through the agency’s social media account(s), and the agency will be responsible for launching the campaign, managing/monitoring comments, responding to questions/messages, and tracking analytics, in partnership with the research team.

Guidelines for Recruiting Research Subjects Through Social Media

Study teams that wish to disseminate study recruitment content through social media must review and adhere to the following guidelines.

Note: These guidelines are intended to address the use of social media as a recruitment tool, not as a forum for conducting research (e.g. collecting data, observing subjects/data mining through online forums, etc.).

Social Media Dos and Don'ts

We strongly recommend following these best practices when using social media for research study recruitment.

DO review our CU Anschutz social media page for more information and best practices.

DON’T rely on “organic” (unpaid) social media posts to recruit research subjects. Unless you have a significant following on social media, these types of posts are rarely effective at reaching target audiences.

DO align all study advertisements and materials with CU Anschutz brand guidelines. Using the university’s approved brand for your ads helps to convey a sense of credibility and trustworthiness to potential subjects while building recognition of research efforts. You can find branded templates in the CU Anschutz template library. 

DON’T create a separate social media account just for your study. Research teams wishing to advertise a research study must go through an official university social media account or third-party agency, as outlined in the options.

DO create a landing page on the CU Anschutz Research Studies website, and direct potential subjects to this page in all social media ads/posts/content. For information on how to post your study to the Research Studies website, click here.

DON’T message, tag or proactively reach out to potential subjects through social media. Individuals who reach out to a study team member via comments or private messaging should be provided with the contact details of the study team and directed to communicate about the study occur offline (e.g., phone) or via a secure, HIPAA-compliant approved platform.

DO ensure the language on your Research Studies webpage is compelling, engaging, and easy to understand and navigate. Keep in mind many people who click on your ad/post may have never participated in a research study before. Be sure to include information on the time commitment and compensation involved to boost interest.

DON’T use your personal social media accounts to purchase or place recruitment ads for research studies. Personal accounts may only be used to contact account/group/ page/community moderators to request they post IRB-approved study content on behalf of the research team.

DO submit several variations of social media content (e.g., alternate images or text) for IRB approval, so the social media teams can make real-time adjustments to optimize campaign engagement. When writing ad text variations, consider the target audience. Concise language is best for social media to optimize the mobile-user experience.

DON’T engage in arguments or negative dialogue related to your ad or post. Depending on the nature of the negative comment or message, you can either ignore it or refer the commenter to an offline forum where their questions/concerns can be addressed.