Using Facebook to Recruit Young Adult Veterans

Online Mental Health Research

Published in: JMIR Research Protocols, v. 4, no. 2, June 2015, p. e63

Posted on RAND.org on August 28, 2015

by Eric R. Pedersen, Eric D. Helmuth, Grant N. Marshall, Terry L. Schell, Marc PunKay, Jeremy Kurz

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BACKGROUND: Veteran research has primarily been conducted with clinical samples and those already involved in health care systems, but much is to be learned about veterans in the community. Facebook is a novel yet largely unexplored avenue for recruiting veteran participants for epidemiological and clinical studies. OBJECTIVE: In this study, we utilized Facebook to recruit a sample of young adult veterans for the first phase of an online alcohol intervention study. We describe the successful Facebook recruitment process, including data collection from over 1000 veteran participants in approximately 3 weeks, procedures to verify participation eligibility, and comparison of our sample with nationally available norms. METHODS: Participants were young adult veterans aged 18-34 recruited through Facebook as part of a large study to document normative drinking behavior among a large community sample of veterans. Facebook ads were targeted toward young veterans to collect information on demographics and military characteristics, health behaviors, mental health, and health care utilization. RESULTS: We obtained a sample of 1023 verified veteran participants over a period of 24 days for the advertising price of approximately US $7.05 per verified veteran participant. Our recruitment strategy yielded a sample similar to the US population of young adult veterans in most demographic areas except for race/ethnicity and previous branch of service, which when we weighted the sample on race/ethnicity and branch a sample better matched with the population data was obtained. The Facebook sample recruited veterans who were engaged in a variety of risky health behaviors such as binge drinking and marijuana use. One fourth of veterans had never since discharge been to an appointment for physical health care and about half had attended an appointment for service compensation review. Only half had attended any appointment for a mental health concern at any clinic or hospital. Despite more than half screening positive for current probable mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, only about 1 in 3 received mental health care in the past year and only 1 in 50 received such care within the past month. CONCLUSIONS: This work expands on the work of other studies that have examined clinical samples of veterans only and suggests Facebook can be an adequate method of obtaining samples of veterans in need of care.

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