Social media as a recruitment platform for a nationwide online survey of COVID-19 knowledge, beliefs, and practices in the United States: Methodology and feasibility analysis

Shahmir H. Ali, Joshua Foreman, Ariadna Capasso, Abbey M. Jones, Yesim Tozan, Ralph J. Diclemente

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has evolved into one of the most impactful health crises in modern history, compelling researchers to explore innovative ways to efficiently collect public health data in a timely manner. Social media platforms have been explored as a research recruitment tool in other settings; however, their feasibility for collecting representative survey data during infectious disease epidemics remain unexplored.

OBJECTIVES: This study has two aims 1) describe the methodology used to recruit a nationwide sample of adults residing in the United States (U.S.) to participate in a survey on COVID-19 knowledge, beliefs, and practices, and 2) outline the preliminary findings related to recruitment, challenges using social media as a recruitment platform, and strategies used to address these challenges.

METHODS: An original web-based survey informed by evidence from past literature and validated scales was developed. A Facebook advertisement campaign was used to disseminate the link to an online Qualtrics survey between March 20-30, 2020. Two supplementary male-only and racial minority- targeted advertisements were created on the sixth and tenth day of recruitment, respectively, to address issues of disproportionate female- and White-oriented gender- and ethnic-skewing observed in the advertisement's reach and response trends.

RESULTS: In total, 6602 participant responses were recorded with representation from all U.S. 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The advertisements cumulatively reached 236,017 individuals and resulted in 9609 clicks (4.07% reach). Total cost of the advertisement was $906, resulting in costs of $0.09 per click and $0.18 per full response (completed surveys). Implementation of the male-only advertisement improved the cumulative percentage of male respondents from approximately 20 to 40%.

CONCLUSIONS: The social media advertisement campaign was an effective and efficient strategy to collect large scale, nationwide data on COVID-19 within a short time period. Although the proportion of men who completed the survey was lower than those who didn't, interventions to increase male responses and enhance representativeness were successful. These findings can inform future research on the use of social media recruitment for the rapid collection of survey data related to rapidly evolving health crises, such as COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 13 2020


  • Beliefs
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Facebook
  • Infectious disease
  • Knowledge
  • Methodology
  • Practices
  • Social media
  • Surveillance
  • Social Media
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Coronavirus Infections/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Patient Selection
  • Young Adult
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States/epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral/epidemiology
  • Betacoronavirus
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Internet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Epidemiology


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