Using Social Media for Survey Notifications: Tips from STREAMS
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
- Start with a clear purpose. A study team might consider using social media in several ways, such as keeping sample members engaged with the study or contacting them through direct messages. Deciding on the purpose of social media outreach is important because the logistics, considerations, and time required for each purpose differ.
- Determine the best platform to use. There are several social media platforms, each with varying features and evolving levels of popularity. In deciding which platform is the best fit for a study’s needs, the study team must consider security and privacy requirements, desired messaging capabilities, ability to interact with other accounts or users, and expected popularity of the platform among the study’s intended population.
- Take precautions when setting up the account. Social media platforms use multiple screening tools and methods to assess the legitimacy of user accounts and restrict those that present a risk to other users. When setting up a social media account for a research study, the study team must take steps to ensure the account complies with platform requirements and can remain active.
- If sending direct messages, be prepared for a lot of work. One way to use social media is to send direct messages to study participants when they are due for a follow-up survey. The direct messages may include links to individualized surveys and the same types of personalized messages often used in email or text message reminders. Sending direct messages through social media requires labor-intensive processes to verify user handles and send the messages to individual user accounts.
In recent years, changes in technology and modes of communication have posed new challenges for studies that use surveys to collect data from study participants. Because of fewer landlines, spam filtering caller ID applications, and lack of participant responses to outreach efforts, new and creative methods for reaching participants are necessary. The challenge is particularly acute for studies involving younger study participants (younger than 18) who might be harder to reach by email or phone. In the Strengthening Relationship Education and Marriage Services (STREAMS) evaluation, we conducted a small-scale pilot using the social media platform Instagram to remind high-school-age students to complete a study follow-up survey. We conducted the pilot as part of a broader outreach strategy that included more traditional letters, text messages, and email reminders. Drawing on our experience, this brief highlights six considerations for using social media in research study outreach and tracking.