Michigan BioTrust for Health (BioTrust), a state-run, population-based biobank, reached out through Facebook to connect with donors old and new (Platt et al., 2016).1 Over an 11-week period during the spring of 2015, researchers conducted a Facebook marketing campaign using various outreach strategies to connect with Michigan residents aged 18 to 64. From the data gathered, the team found that outreach by Facebook marketing is a promising tool for biobank community engagement.
BioTrust links state health provision with research, holding residual dried blood spots (DBS) from newborn screening linked with the public registry. Along with many other, similar biorepositories, BioTrust faces issues with informed consent and prolonged storage, as well as other concerns arising from unspecified and open-ended research projects. Biobank managers recognize the need to engage in effective communication with past and future donors, noting that elsewhere courts have ordered destruction of DBS holdings. In Michigan, less than 50% of the population knows about the newborn screening program; awareness of BioTrust and stored DBS is worse, at less than 5%. Furthermore, many Michigan residents do not fully appreciate their participation in ongoing research.
To open up a dialogue with Michigan residents, Platt et al. embarked on a Facebook marketing campaign, using static and video campaigns to generate engagement. They designed each part of the campaign to solicit different levels of engagement and then analyzed the data to provide results based on demographic factors such as age, gender and social information.
First, the researchers designed advertising materials—images, animations and videos—before setting up the campaigns within the Facebook Ads Manager tool, optimizing for delivery and promotion within the platform’s algorithms as much as possible. They set the advertising to deliver one of four end goals: page likes, website click-throughs, video viewing or post engagement (comments and discussion). Using the metrics available with Ads Manager and content analysis from ATLAS.ti, Platt et al. measured engagement levels stimulated with each ad type and among each demographic group, ranking interactions from simple “likes” or exploration of content to comments, sharing, discussion and in-real-life actions such as attending a promoted event.
The campaigns ran for 11 weeks with a budget of US$15,000. Preparatory work by a dedicated staff member took up 20 hours per week for four months before launch, and then one to two hours per week while the ads were being served on the platform. Engagement reached 1.8 million Michigan-based Facebook users (from the state population of 6.2 million 18- to 64-year-olds), resulting in 9,009 page likes, 15,958 click-throughs to the BioTrust website and 12,909 full video viewings.
Boosted posts received 528 comments, with 35,966 post engagements. Overall, the study provoked 452 shares, with 642 comments, including 176 that specifically discussed newborn screening and biobanking. Deeper analysis showed that the campaigns reached a younger age group and more female users than male. Moreover, video viewing tended to attract younger users. Once page activity stopped (i.e., the campaign ended), user interaction fell sharply.
Platt et al. note that running outreach on a platform such as Facebook is difficult since researchers must work within a closed framework where decision trees and algorithms are not available for scrutiny. However, using the social networking site’s filtering and focusing process helps reach geographically targeted user groups and diverse audiences that may not be accessible through traditional outreach strategies. Furthermore, by encouraging what the team describes as “reader to leader” interactions, where users are able to have discussions with both researchers and their peers, Platt et al. suggest that this lack of control is offset by the ability for biobanks to enjoy a virtual relationship with donors and community, engaging through two-way conversation on an open-access platform. In conclusion, the authors consider that Facebook marketing is a promising tool for biobank outreach.
1. Platt, T., et al. (2016) “Facebook advertising across an engagement spectrum: A case example for public health communication,” Journal of Medical Internet Research Public Health and Surveillance, 2(1) (e27), doi: 10.2196/publichealth.5623.