Recruiting Hard-to-Reach Populations: The Utility of Facebook for Recruiting Qualitative In-Depth Interviewees

Marc D. Weiner, Orin T. Puniello, Paul C. Siracusa, Jocelyn Elise Crowley


We present a cost efficient methodology for using social media to recruit a low incidence, hard-to-reach population. For qualitative research investigating the policy implications of divorce later in life, we were challenged to recruit a pool of qualified respondents to secure 80 in-depth interview subjects of geographic diversity divided evenly by sex. Although “gray divorce” (i.e., divorce at or over 50 years old) is increasingly common – approximately one in four of all divorces in the United States now occurs within this age group – the incidence rate of individuals in the general population meeting these criteria renders traditional recruitment methods cost-prohibitive. With limited resources and the need for microtargeting, we turned to Facebook: Over four waves totaling 13 days, we recruited 178 qualified respondents from which we successfully selected 40 male and 40 female interviewees while preserving geographic diversity. We specified the characteristics of Facebook users who would be exposed to our solicitation; overall, we generated the respondent pool at a mean cost of $1.18 per respondent, for a total recruitment cost of $210.04. Compared to other recruitment approaches, the speed and cost-efficiency of this methodology was overwhelmingly superior.


recruitment; hard-to-reach; low-incidence population; social media.

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