Reaching Populations at Risk for HIV through Targeted Facebook Advertisements: Cost-Consequence Analysis

John J. Hanna, Sameh N Saleh, Christoph U. Lehmann, Ank E. Nijhawan, Richard J. Medford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: An undiagnosed HIV infection remains a public health challenge. In the digital era, social media and digital health communication have been widely used to accelerate research, improve consumer health, and facilitate public health interventions including HIV prevention. Objective: We aimed to evaluate and compare the projected cost and efficacy of different simulated Facebook (FB) advertisement (ad) approaches targeting at-risk populations for HIV based on new HIV diagnosis rates by age group and geographic region in the United States. Methods: We used the FB ad platform to simulate (without actually launching) an automatically placed video ad for a 10-day duration targeting at-risk populations for HIV. We compared the estimated total ad audience, daily reach, daily clicks, and cost. We tested ads for the age group of 13 to 24 years (in which undiagnosed HIV is most prevalent), other age groups, US geographic regions and states, and different campaign budgets. We then estimated the ad cost per new HIV diagnosis based on HIV positivity rates and the average health care industry conversion rate. Results: On April 20, 2021, the potential reach of targeted ads to at-risk populations for HIV in the United States was approximately 16 million for all age groups and 3.3 million for age group 13 to 24 years, with the highest potential reach in California, Texas, Florida, and New York. When using different FB ad budgets, the daily reach and daily clicks per US dollar followed a cumulative distribution curve of an exponential function. Using multiple US $10 ten-day ads, the cost per every new HIV diagnosis ranged from US $13.09 to US $37.82, with an average cost of US $19.45. In contrast, a 1-time national ad had a cost of US $72.76 to US $452.25 per new HIV diagnosis (mean US $166.79). The estimated cost per new HIV diagnosis ranged from US $13.96 to US $55.10 for all age groups (highest potential reach and lowest cost in the age groups 20-29 and 30-39 years) and from US $12.55 to US $24.67 for all US regions (with the highest potential reach of 6.2 million and the lowest cost per new HIV diagnosis at US $12.55 in the US South). Conclusions: Targeted personalized FB ads are a potential means to encourage at-risk populations for HIV to be tested, especially those aged 20 to 39 years in the US South, where the disease burden and potential reach on FB are high and the ad cost per new HIV diagnosis is low. Considering the cost efficiency of ads, the combined cost of multiple low-cost ads may be more economical than a single high-cost ad, suggesting that local FB ads could be more cost-effective than a single large-budget national FB ad.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere38630
JournalJMIR Formative Research
StatePublished - 2023


  • consumer health
  • Facebook
  • health behavior
  • health care seeking behavior
  • HIV diagnosis
  • HIV testing
  • human immunodeficiency virus
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics


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