• Article

Recruiting hard-to-reach populations for survey research Using Facebook and Instagram advertisements and in-person intercept in LGBT bars and nightclubs to recruit LGBT young adults

BACKGROUND: Tobacco public education campaigns focus increasingly on hard-to-reach populations at higher risk for smoking, prompting campaign creators and evaluators to develop strategies to reach hard-to-reach populations in virtual and physical spaces where they spend time.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to describe two novel recruitment strategies (in-person intercept interviews in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] social venues and targeted social media ads) and compares characteristics of participants recruited via these strategies for the US Food and Drug Administration's This Free Life campaign evaluation targeting LGBT young adults who smoke cigarettes occasionally.

METHODS: We recruited LGBT adults aged 18-24 years in the United States via Facebook and Instagram ads (N=1709, mean age 20.94, SD 1.94) or intercept in LGBT social venues (N=2348, mean age 21.98, SD 1.69) for the baseline evaluation survey. Covariates related to recruitment strategy were age; race or ethnicity; LGBT identity; education; pride event attendance; and alcohol, cigarette, and social media use.

RESULTS: Lesbian or gay women (adjusted odds ratio, AOR 1.88, 95% CI 1.54-2.29, P<.001), bisexual men and women (AOR 1.46, 95% CI 1.17-1.82, P=.001), gender minorities (AOR 1.68, 95% CI 1.26-2.25, P<.001), and other sexual minorities (AOR 2.48, 95% CI 1.62-3.80, P<.001) were more likely than gay men to be recruited via social media (than intercept). Hispanic (AOR 0.73, 95% CI 0.61-0.89, P=.001) and other or multiracial, non-Hispanic participants (AOR 0.70, 95% CI 0.54-0.90, P=.006) were less likely than white, non-Hispanic participants to be recruited via social media. As age increased, odds of recruitment via social media decreased (AOR 0.76, 95% CI 0.72-0.80, P<.001). Participants with some college education (AOR 1.27, 95% CI 1.03-1.56, P=.03) were more likely than those with a college degree to be recruited via social media. Participants reporting past 30-day alcohol use were less likely to be recruited via social media (AOR 0.33, 95% CI 0.24-0.44, P<.001). Participants who reported past-year pride event attendance were more likely to be recruited via social media (AOR 1.31, 95% CI 1.06-1.64, P=.02), as well as those who used Facebook at least once daily (AOR 1.43, 95% CI 1.14-1.80, P=.002). Participants who reported using Instagram at least once daily were less likely to be recruited via social media (AOR 0.73, 95% CI 0.62-0.86, P<.001). Social media recruitment was faster (incidence rate ratio, IRR=3.31, 95% CI 3.11-3.52, P<.001) and less expensive (2.2% of combined social media and intercept recruitment cost) but had greater data quality issues-a larger percentage of social media respondents were lost because of duplicate and low-quality responses (374/4446, 8.41%) compared with intercept respondents lost to interviewer misrepresentation (15/4446, 0.34%; P<.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Social media combined with intercept provided access to important LGBT subpopulations (eg, gender and other sexual minorities) and a more diverse sample. Social media methods have more data quality issues but are faster and less expensive than intercept. Recruiting hard-to-reach populations via audience-tailored strategies enabled recruitment of one of the largest LGBT young adult samples, suggesting these methods' promise for accessing hard-to-reach populations.


Guillory, J., Wiant, K. F., Farrelly, M., Fiacco, L., Alam, I., Hoffman, L., ... Alexander, T. N. (2018). Recruiting hard-to-reach populations for survey research: Using Facebook and Instagram advertisements and in-person intercept in LGBT bars and nightclubs to recruit LGBT young adults. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 20(6), [197]. https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.9461

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