Reaching adolescent gay, bisexual, and queer men online: Development and refinement of a national recruitment strategy

Tonya L. Prescott, Gregory Phillips, L. Zachary DuBois, Sheana S. Bull, Brian Mustanski, Michele L. Ybarra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Scopus citations


Background: Using social networking websites to recruit research participants is increasingly documented in the literature, although few studies have leveraged these sites to reach those younger than 18 years. Objective: To discuss the development and refinement of a recruitment protocol to reach and engage adolescent gay, bisexual, and other teenaged men who have sex with men (AGBM). Participants were recruited for development and evaluation activities related to Guy2Guy, a text messaging-based human immunodeficiency virus infection prevention program. Methods: Eligibility criteria included being between 14 to 18 years old; being a cisgender male; self-identifying as gay, bisexual, and/or queer; being literate in English, exclusively owning a cell phone, enrolled in an unlimited text messaging plan, intending to keep their current phone number over the next 6 months, and having used text messaging for at least the past 6 months. Recruitment experiences and subsequent steps to refine the Internet-based recruitment strategy are discussed for 4 research activities: online focus groups, content advisory team, beta test, and randomized controlled trial (RCT). Recruitment relied primarily on Facebook advertising. To a lesser extent, Google AdWords and promotion through partner organizations working with AGBM youth were also utilized. Results: Facebook advertising strategies were regularly adjusted based on preidentified recruitment targets for race, ethnicity, urban-rural residence, and sexual experience. The result was a diverse sample of participants, of whom 30% belonged to a racial minority and 20% were Hispanic. Facebook advertising was the most cost-effective method, and it was also able to reach diverse recruitment goals: recruitment for the first focus group cost an average of US $2.50 per enrolled participant, and it took 9 days to enroll 40 participants; the second focus group cost an average of US $6.96 per enrolled participant, and it took 11 days to enroll 40 participants. Recruitment for the first content advisory team cost an average of US $32.52 per enrolled participant; the second cost US $29.52 per participant. Both recruitment drives required 10 days to enroll 24 participants. For the beta test, recruitment cost an average of US $17.19 per enrolled participant, and it took 16 days to complete enrollment of 20 participants. For the RCT, recruitment cost an average of US $12.54 per enrolled participant, and it took 148 days to enroll 302 participants. Google AdWords campaigns did not result in any enrolled participants of whom the research staff members were aware. Conclusions: Internet-based strategies can be a cost-efficient means to recruit and retain hard-to-reach populations from across the country. With real-time monitoring of participant demographic characteristics, diverse samples can be achieved. Although Facebook advertising was particularly successful in this study, alternative social media strategies can be explored in future research as these media are ever-changing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere200
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2016



  • AGBM
  • Adolescent
  • Facebook
  • HIV
  • Intervention development
  • MHealth
  • Recruitment methods
  • Sexual minority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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