Background: Researchers are increasingly using social media advertisements to recruit participants because of their many advantages over traditional methods. Although there is growing evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of social media recruitment in the health sciences, no studies have yet examined this in the context of suicide prevention, which remains to be a highly stigmatized and sensitive topic.
Objective: This study aims to recruit a general community sample to complete a survey on suicide literacy, stigma, and risk via Facebook advertisements. Specifically, we aim to establish the performance of the advertisements, cost-effectiveness, sample representativeness, and the impact of gender-specific advertising on recruiting men into the study.
Methods: From June 2017 to March 2019, we released Facebook advertisements targeted at adults 18 years or older, residing in the New South Wales (NSW) trial or control regions, and involved in the LifeSpan suicide prevention trial. Cost-effectiveness was examined descriptively using metrics provided by Facebook. Chi-square analyses were conducted to determine demographic differences between our sample and the general NSW population as well as the impact of gender-specific advertisements on gender engagement.
Results: The 14 Facebook advertisement campaigns reached a total of 675,199 people, yielding 25,993 link clicks and resulting in 9603 individuals initiating the survey (7487 completions) at an overall cost of Aus $2.81 (US $2.01) per participant. There was an overrepresentation of younger (P=.003), female (P=.003), highly educated (P<.001) participants and mental health conditions (P<.001) compared with the total NSW population. The use of male-specific advertisements resulted in a significantly higher proportion of men completing the survey relative to gender-neutral advertisements (38.2% vs 24.6%; P<.001).
Conclusions: This study demonstrates the potential of Facebook to be an effective, low-cost strategy for recruiting a large sample of general community participants for suicide prevention research. Strategies to improve sample representativeness warrant further investigation in future research.