The Effectiveness of Paid Facebook Advertising on Recruitment and Engagement in the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) Research Initiative

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
V. J. Myers, B. E. Robertson, A. Daniels, P. Feliciano and W. K. Chung, Simons Foundation, New York, NY

Historically, participation in autism research has been low relative to other medical conditions. Past research indicates that only about 5-10% of individuals with autism have been in a clinical research study. Recruitment for autism research studies has been primarily through academic research centers which are limited to specific geographic areas. Social media platforms like Facebook, however, allow researchers to target their recruitment efforts more effectively and efficiently. There are an estimated 13 million Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 65+ with a defined interest in “autism awareness.” Targeted Facebook advertising to these users for autism research may significantly enhance study recruitment and participation.


The primary aim of this study was to quantify the participants who joined SPARK through paid Facebook advertising from June through August 2017. A secondary aim was to measure the increase in followers via paid Facebook advertising and to evaluate the percentage increase in SPARK participation of individuals, families and fathers before and after the advertising period.


A series of videos, graphic interchange formats (GIFs) and static images were created for use in paid Facebook advertisements. Engaging and inviting recruitment language was developed to accompany the digital assets. A tracking code was embedded within the HTML of the study website to measure the number of people who joined SPARK. The code was also used in targeting individuals who had initiated, but not completed registration. Characteristics of the targeted audiences included parents who had not completed registration, mothers with autism interests and married mothers with autism interests.


From June through August 2017, 2,899 individuals enrolled in SPARK through Facebook advertising. Advertisements to individuals who had initiated, but not completed registration were less effective and only 13 percent of new registrants came from this audience segment. The most successful target audience was married mothers with autism interests, which recruited 52 percent of the total. We saw a 73 percent increase in overall registration and a 20 percent increase in father registration during the study period. We saw a 61 percent increase in Facebook page likes during this time as well as increased engagement on the study’s Facebook page.


Facebook is an effective way to recruit participants for SPARK. Fathers are a difficult demographic to reach; but when targeting mothers on Facebook we see increased participation from fathers too. In summary, mothers are a more effective demographic to target through Facebook advertising to recruit participants for autism research.