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Randomised controlled trial of incentives to improve online survey completion among internet-using men who have sex with men
  1. Eric Hall1,
  2. Travis Sanchez1,
  3. Rob Stephenson2,
  4. Aryeh D Stein3,
  5. Robert Craig Sineath1,
  6. Maria Zlotorzynska1,
  7. Patrick Sullivan1
  1. 1 Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  2. 2 Department of Health Behavior and Biological Sciences, School of Nursing and Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  3. 3 Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  1. Correspondence to Eric Hall, Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta GA 30322, USA; eric.w.hall{at}


Background HIV prevention research often involves the use of online surveys as data collection instruments. Incomplete responses to these surveys can introduce bias. We aimed to develop and assess innovative methods to incentivise respondents to complete surveys.

Methods Adult men who have sex with men (MSM) living in the USA were recruited through banner advertisements on Facebook from 27 April 2015 to 6 May 2015 to participate in an online survey about HIV prevention and risk behaviours. Participants were randomised to one of four conditions: a monetary incentive; a series of altruistic messages highlighting the importance of participating in research; access to a dashboard comparing their responses with statistics from other participants after completion; and no incentive. Kaplan-Meier survival methods and univariate Cox proportional hazard models were used to evaluate survey dropout by incentive group and demographic variables of interest.

Results There were a total of 1178 participants randomised to the four treatment groups. The rate of survey dropout among participants in the altruistic (HR=0.68, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.93), monetary (HR=0.44, 95% CI 0.32 to 0.61) and dashboard (HR=0.78, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.06) groups was lower than the non-incentivised control group. Regardless of condition, survey dropout was also lower among MSM aged 28–34 (HR=0.67, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.90) compared with those aged 18–22 years old, and MSM who were white (HR=0.78, 95% CI 0.60 to 1.02) compared with non-white participants.

Conclusion Monetary incentives and altruistic messaging can improve survey completion in online behavioural HIV prevention research among MSM.

Trial registration number NCT02139566.

  • HIV
  • study design
  • health behaviour

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  • Contributors EH led the statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript. TS and PS contributed to study conception, study design and coordination of study procedures, and reviewed the manuscript. RS and ADS contributed to study conception, study design and reviewed the manuscript. RCS contributed to study design, led the study implementation and contributed to statistical analysis. MZ contributed to results interpretation and reviewed the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This work was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R21HD074502) and the Emory University Center for AIDS Research (P30AI050409).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board at Emory University.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.