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April 2011 Issue

Devon Berry, PhD
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Social Media Helps Attract Nursing Study Participants

By Angela Koenig
Published April 2011

Today’s young people operate in a near paperless society, and communication platforms like email, texting, Twitter and Facebook rule when it comes to spreading the word far and wide.

"It’s all about connection, connection, connection,” says UC researcher Devon Berry, PhD, who touts social media as the solution to finding study participants for an ongoing research project on whether religiosity affects risky behaviors in students transitioning from high school to college.

Berry, an assistant professor in the UC College of Nursing, and his research team originally took the traditional approach to recruitment, such as handing out fliers at student events.

That method, requiring numerous man hours and the expense of paper fliers, culled a whopping 17 participants.

But Berry needed 120 participants and had a timeline to follow as a requirement of the research grant—$350,000, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

His team, Berry says, decided to hone its approach based on a previous phase of the research, asking

"How is it that college students are communicating these days?”

It seemed obvious to turn to electronic communication, through which students could email, text or Facebook their interest in the study. And the replies started pouring in, Berry says—some from campuses as far as 500 miles away.

"Viral is probably too big of a word, but participation actually began to build very rapidly,” he says, adding that within four weeks, 49 students had enrolled via text and 55 via email.

To keep up with the rapid pace of enrollment, especially by texting, Berry turned to Google Voice, a free service which can convert texts to email as a means to read, track, and respond to multiple texts.

"That way, we were able to use the keyboard because it would be impossible to text back that many people and expensive to purchase mobile devices for one phone number,” he says.

An additional benefit was that Google logs all of the interactions, which is essential to research.
The only downside: Many of the responses came in between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., when the students are wide awake and faculty are fast asleep, so one lucky team member burned the midnight oil in order to respond to the inquiries.

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