Using Facebook to Reach People Who Experience Auditory Hallucinations

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Journal of Medical Internet Research


Background: Auditory hallucinations (eg, hearing voices) are relatively common and underreported false sensory experiences that may produce distress and impairment. A large proportion of those who experience auditory hallucinations go unidentified and untreated. Traditional engagement methods oftentimes fall short in reaching the diverse population of people who experience auditory hallucinations. Objective: The objective of this proof-of-concept study was to examine the viability of leveraging Web-based social media as a method of engaging people who experience auditory hallucinations and to evaluate their attitudes toward using social media platforms as a resource for Web-based support and technology-based treatment. Methods: We used Facebook advertisements to recruit individuals who experience auditory hallucinations to complete an 18-item Web-based survey focused on issues related to auditory hallucinations and technology use in American adults. We systematically tested multiple elements of the advertisement and survey layout including image selection, survey pagination, question ordering, and advertising targeting strategy. Each element was evaluated sequentially and the most cost-effective strategy was implemented in the subsequent steps, eventually deriving an optimized approach. Three open-ended question responses were analyzed using conventional inductive content analysis. Coded responses were quantified into binary codes, and frequencies were then calculated. Results: Recruitment netted N=264 total sample over a 6-week period. Ninety-seven participants fully completed all measures at a total cost of $8.14 per participant across testing phases. Systematic adjustments to advertisement design, survey layout, and targeting strategies improved data quality and cost efficiency. People were willing to provide information on what triggered their auditory hallucinations along with strategies they use to cope, as well as provide suggestions to others who experience auditory hallucinations. Women, people who use mobile phones, and those experiencing more distress, were reportedly more open to using Facebook as a support and/or therapeutic tool in the future. Conclusions: Facebook advertisements can be used to recruit research participants who experience auditory hallucinations quickly and in a cost-effective manner. Most (58%) Web-based respondents are open to Facebook-based support and treatment and are willing to describe their subjective experiences with auditory hallucinations.