Background Facebook is the world's largest social media site, and university students comprise one of the largest user groups. Sexually transmitted infections are also highly prevalent among university students in the USA. We evaluated a targeted Facebook advertisement for easy, inexpensive chlamydia testing at The Ohio State University (OSU), a public university with 55 000 students.
Methods Over 2 weeks in May 2010, our advertisement for $25 chlamydia testing was displayed to Facebook users who had self-identified as OSU students between 19 and 28 years of age. Students provided a urine sample directly to the laboratory; a clinician visit was not required. To a separate convenience sample we administered a short survey capturing demographics, social media use and interest in future testing.
Results The advertisement received 401 732 impressions” (displays of the advertisement to users). Nearly all 98%) impressions were to 19–24-year-olds. The daily impressions varied enormously, from 0 to more than 100 000. In the first week, although the advertisement received up to 2,900 daily impressions, no one clicked it. We gradually increased our “bid per click”—the amount we agreed to pay Facebook for each click—from $0.62 to $0.90. We also modified the advertisement format to depict a college student and to clearly specify the $25 cost of the test. Following these changes, both the number of impressions and “clicks” rose dramatically. Seventy-five individuals clicked the advertisement (25 women and 50 men), with an average cost per click of $0.84. Three students, all female, came for chlamydia testing; one tested positive. Among surveyed individuals (n=60), 75% reported using Facebook daily or more often. Few (10%) reported ever clicking on Facebook advertisements. Only one surveyed student noticed our Facebook advertisement. The direct-to-laboratory testing concept was popular, with 75% reporting willingness to use this service in the future.
Conclusions In this short pilot study, 75 individuals clicked on a Facebook advertisement about chlamydia testing, three came for testing and one tested positive. Facebook advertisements are inexpensive, with high exposure to the target population. A small increase in bid per click can make a very large difference in total impressions. The format of the advertisement is critical for catching the attention of the target audience, because many students report never noticing or clicking Facebook advertisements.
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