Webinar: Social Media as a Research Recruitment Tool

View the webinar recording:


The use of social media as a recruitment tool for research with human subjects has shown signs of effectiveness. The use of this recruitment method is likely to increase due to social media's convenience, affordability, and ubiquity. For example, researchers recently leveraged social media to locate individuals with a rare heart condition and meet enrollment targets in one week for a study they were conducting on the condition (Tweet et al)1. Social media has also shown effectiveness at reaching other populations that have historically been considered hard to access, such as pediatric cancer survivors (Gorman et al.)2 and gay Latino couples3. To date, however, there has been no specific regulatory guidance on social media recruitment. In order to ensure that these potentially invaluable recruitment methods are utilized in ways that safeguard the rights and interests of possible subjects and social media users, IRBs need the right tools to evaluate their ethical and regulatory acceptability.

Using case studies from biomedical and social and behavioral research, this webinar will highlight pertinent ethical and practical considerations when evaluating the use of social media to recruit study subjects. Topics for discussion will include:

  • Federal regulations pertaining to subject recruitment and their applicability to social media contexts
  • Methods, tools, and processes for use by investigators and IRBs when developing social media recruitment techniques and evaluating them from an ethical perspective
  • Key ethical principles of subject privacy and investigator transparency
  • Novel ethical aspects of social media recruitment, including compliance with website "terms of use," recruiting from online networks of research subjects, and ethical implications of online communication from and among study subjects

What will I learn?
After attending this webinar, attendees will be able to:

  • Apply relevant federal regulations to the context of social media recruitment
  • Utilize the appropriate methodology for assessing social media recruitment techniques when reviewing protocols
  • Understand the norms of respect for privacy and investigator transparency, as well as potentially unfamiliar ethical aspects of social media recruitment techniques that may apply in the social media context

Who should attend?
This intermediate-level webinar will benefit IRB staff and members, compliance personnel, institutional officials, researchers, and research staff who work in either biomedical or social and behavioral research that uses social media for study recruitment.


Luke-Gelinas-2016Luke Gelinas, PhD, joined the Petrie-Flom Center in 2015 as the first Petrie-Flom Center/Harvard Catalyst Fellow in Clinical Research Ethics. Dr. Gelinas earned his PhD in 2014 from the University of Toronto, where he was a graduate fellow at the University of Toronto's Centre for Ethics; he also has an MA in Religion summa cum laude from Yale Divinity School. Most recently, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in bioethics at the National Institutes of Health and training in clinical ethics at Albany Medical College. His research interests focus primarily on the concept of informed consent. His past scholarship has explored the ethics of exploiting common heuristics and biases to nudge people during the consent process, as well as the conditions under which consent can justifiably be waived in research with humans. Currently, his work advances several projects as part of the Harvard Catalyst Regulatory Foundations, Ethics, and Law Program, with a particular emphasis on the regulatory, ethical, and practical aspects associated with recruitment and retention of research participants. Dr. Gelinas's work has been published in several academic journals, including Hastings Center Report, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, and American Journal of Bioethics.

Odwazny_Laura_2015Laura Odwazny, JD, MA, is a senior attorney with the Office of the General Counsel, DHHS. Ms. Odwazny's primary client is the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP), which interprets and enforces the DHHS regulations that provide protections for human research subjects. Ms. Odwazny also currently advises the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, the DHHS Office on Women's Health, and the DHHS Office of Global Affairs. Throughout her 16 years with the Office of the General Counsel, Ms. Odwazny has provided legal advice to various other agencies within DHHS, including the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, the Program Support Center Division of Freedom of Information Act Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, and the Office of Research Integrity. Prior to her employment with DHHS, Ms. Odwazny served as a law clerk to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Ms. Odwazny is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School Of Law, and received a master's degree in bioethics through the History and Philosophy of Science Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. Odwazny has served on the core conference planning committee for PRIM&R's annual Advancing Ethical Research Conference since 2013, and has served as co-chair since 2015.

Background Reading

Curtis, Brenda M. (2015). Social Networking and Online Recruiting for HIV Research: Ethical Challenges. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 9(1), 58-70. doi: 10.1525/jer.2014.9.1.58

Certificates of Attendance

Certificates of attendance will be made available at the conclusion of the webinar. To access the certificate, you must first complete the online evaluation. Such certificates are useful for obtaining continuing education (CE) credits (not Continuing Medical Education credits) from professional associations. Note that guidelines concerning CE credits may differ, and you should consult the appropriate professional association representative for further guidance.

CE Credit for Certified IRB Professional (CIP®) Recertification

Webinar participants holding the CIP® credential who wish to apply credits from this webinar toward CIP® recertification may submit the Certificate of Attendance they received upon completing the online evaluation as documentation of their participation. Participation in this 90-minute webinar counts as 1.5 CE credit hours. Additional information about recertification can be found here.

Contact Information

If you have additional questions about webinar recordings, please contact us by phone (617.303.1876) or via email.

Tweet M.S., Gulati R., Aase L.A., Hayes S.N. (2011). "Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: A disease-specific, social networking community-initiated study" Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 86(9): 845-50. doi: 10.4065/mcp.2011.0312.

Gorman J.R., Roberts S.C., Dominick S.A., Malcarne V.L., Dietz A.C., and Su H.I. (2014). "A diversified recruitment approach incorporating social media leads to research participation among young adult-aged female cancer survivors." Journal of Adolescent and Young AdultOncology, 3(2), 59-65. doi: 10.1089/jayao.2013.0031

Martinez O, Wu E, Shultz AZ, Capote J, Lopez Rios J, Sandfort T, Manusov J, Ovejero H, Carballo-Dieguez A, Chavez Baray S, Moya E, Lopez Matos J, DelaCruz JJ, Remien RH, Rhodes SD. (2014). "Still a hard-to-reach population? Using social media to recruit Latino gay couples for an HIV intervention adaptation study." Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(4), e113. doi: 10.2196/jmir.3311