Grindr smartphone app could be a good way to recruit gay men to HIV prevention studies

Michael Carter
Published: 25 September 2012

Gay men can be effectively and efficiently recruited to HIV prevention studies using the Grindr smartphone app, investigators from Los Angeles report in AIDS and Behavior.

Grindr was especially useful at reaching younger, more educated gay men who had a higher number of sexual partners.

“We found Grindr to be an efficient and effective tool for the identification and recruitment of a targeted high-risk MSM [men who have sex with men] population in Los Angeles County,” write the investigators.

Smartphones enable users to access the internet quickly, conveniently and at low cost. Grindr is a location-based social networking smartphone application targeted at gay men. It was developed in 2009 and works on Apple, BlackBerry and Android devices.

Investigators in Los Angeles wanted to see if the application could be used to recruit gay men to a rectal microbicide study.

An advert was posted on Grindr in May and July 2010. This was linked to email and telephone contact details for the study.

The investigators gathered data on the advert’s response rate and compared the characteristics of the men recruited using Grindr to those who were enrolled using more traditional recruitment strategies, such as information flyers and outreach at clinics and community organisations.

In 2010, there were a total of 46,400 Grindr users in Los Angeles with 70% logging on daily. The investigators calculated that 32,480 users would have seen their advert. A total of 1389 men (4.3%) clicked on the study’s advert and accessed the contract details. The investigators received 137 contacts from Grindr users via email or telephone.

“This corresponds to an overall response rate of 10% of men who clicked through and approximately 0.3% of total Grindr users in LA county,” note the authors. “Our two single broadcast events required minimal preparation and technical expertise to launch.”

Overall, 105 men completed the study, and their median age was 38 years. Just over a third identified as white, 93% were English speaking and 47% had a college education.

Study participants reported receptive anal sex with a mean of 79 partners during their lifetime. The mean number of receptive anal sexual partners in the year before recruitment to the study was seven and the men reported a mean of two receptive anal sex acts within the two weeks immediately preceding recruitment.

Many of the men were bisexual, with 30% reporting vaginal sex in the previous 14 days,

A total of 24% of study participants were recruited using Grindr. Those recruited using Grindr were more likely to complete their screening visit and enrol on the study (24 of 25 vs 93 of 123, p < 0.05).

There were also significant demographic differences between Grindr participants and individuals recruited using traditional methods.

The men in the Grindr sample were more likely to be aged between 18 and 30 years (56 vs 19%, p < 0.01), white (44 vs 30%, p < 0.01) and to have a college education (68 vs 40%, p < 0.02).

There were also some non-significant differences in sexual risk behaviour between the two groups.

Men recruited via Grindr reported a mean of nine anal sex partners in the previous year compared to a mean of six partners for the other men. Men recruited via the smartphone app also had fewer lifetime female sexual partners (mean 2 vs 19).

The investigators believe that Grindr could be a good way of recruiting gay men to HIV prevention studies. “Participants were highly motivated and altruistic, however their relative affluence resulted in some scheduling conflicts between our clinic and their working hours.”

Nevertheless, they regard their findings as preliminary: “More research is needed to explore alternative social networking applications and their ability to target specific sub-groups within the Los Angeles MSM population, and demonstrate the efficacy of these recruitment approaches against proven recruitment strategies.”

Reference

Burrell ER et al. Use of the location-based social networking application GRINDR as a recruitment tool in rectal microbicide development research. AIDS and Behavior, online edition. DOI 10.1007/s10461-012-0277-z, 2012.