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Traditional vs. Online Recruitment Strategy?

One of aims for the SMS USA study was to reach the population of young adults referred to as the “straight-to-work” population, so these are young adults who choose to go directly into the work force after high school rather than attend college.  We felt this is  an important group to target for cessation efforts because many existing studies involving young adults, ages 18-25, use college-based populations.

So, with that being said, one of the questions we had was:  If we aren’t recruiting on college campuses, how are we going to reach these “straight-to-work” young adults in a national study?

Our solution:  Test the recruitment strategy options (traditional vs. online methods) during the program development work.

The process:  During one of the stages of program development work, we conducted a beta test.  Basically, once all text messages had been finalized and the software had been developed, a brief beta test was conducted. The beta test was 1-week of the overall 6-week program. The goals of the beta test were to confirm the software program functionality (e.g.,  automation of program messages; randomization of participant into treatment/ control study group; etc), and to also test our recruitment strategy.  This post will focus on how we determined the best recruitment strategy to use to reach our target population.

Beta test participants were recruited from MI and NH.  These areas are chosen for practicality being that’s where the research staff were located;  if intensive problem solving was required during the beta test the plan was for the research staff to  meet with participants in-person to troubleshoot any software or program issues.  We utilized 1) traditional recruitment methods (e.g., posted flyer advertisements in laundromats, restaurants, and apartment complexes) and 2) online recruitment methods (e.g., posted free advertisements on Craigslist). We chose to posts ads on Craigslist because we wanted to further our understanding as to whether or not it would be feasible to reach young adults through this website, rather than Facebook and GoogleAds which we had previously tested in earlier program development work.  Craigslist advertisements were posted for each state under the  “General Labor Jobs” category.

12 participants were recruited (6 from NH, 6 from MI) over a 1-week period. We found that a traditional recruitment strategy was more time-intensive (e.g., required research staff to drive/ walk around communities to post multiple ads) and yielded fewer responses to the flyer advertisements (e.g., only 7 responses to the 20 ads posted over a 1-week period).  The online recruitment strategy was less time-intensive (e.g, an online advertisement can be posted in less than 1 minute and can be posted in communities across the country with a click of a mouse),  yielded a higher number of responses to the advertisements (e.g., 26 responses to the 2 ads posted over a 1-week period), and was cost effective (e.g., ads were posted for free).   9 of 12 participants were recruitment from Craigslist.

We concluded from our beta test  that using an online recruitment strategy to recruit young adults in a national study was the most efficient and cost-effective method.  Based on our findings, we chose to recruit primarily through Craigslist, as well as other online communities such as Facebook and GoogleAds as needed for our randomized control trial (RCT).  More about the results of our RCT online recruitment in a later post…

Take-away from today:  Craigslist, a less commonly cited source to reach young adults, appears to be a valuable recruitment resource, at least in our experience of recruiting for a text-messaging based smoking cessation program.  We would encourage others who are considering an online recruitment strategy to consider Craigslist.  Though, we caution that it would be important to test this resource among your study target population to ensure you are able replicate our findings and are able to successfully reach your target population through Craigslist.