Facebook is more than just a place to reconnect with old friends—it’s also a forum to build virtual communities and seek social support. As social media has become an increasingly important part of people’s daily lives, many organizations are turning to Facebook to connect with the public and engage them in online conversations.
Last year, NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Branch (TCRB) launched the Smokefree Women Web site and a companion Facebook page as part of an outreach strategy designed to appeal to younger women and get them involved in efforts to quit smoking.
The Facebook platform acts as a virtual support system, said TCRB’s Dr. Erik Augustson, who leads the project. It provides a place for women to gather, share, and connect with others trying to quit smoking. And starting today, there will be another reason to visit the Smokefree Women Facebook page: video blogs will be posted to the page, showing women talking about topics related to smoking.
“Our Facebook video campaign is brought to real women by real women,” said Alison Pilsner. She leads the mobile team that interviews women about issues such as how they’ve been successful in quitting, smoking while pregnant, and helping family members or friends quit smoking. The hope is that these videos will serve as a launching point for discussions on the Smokefree Women Facebook page.
“Research suggests that social support might have a particular benefit for women who are trying to quit smoking,” said Dr. Augustson. “Participating in conversations and building a community is a way that new media tools, like Facebook, can help NCI integrate social support into our interventions and remove barriers associated with typical smoking cessation treatments.”
Obstacles, such as taking time off from work or commuting to attend face-to-face support groups, are removed by internet-based interventions, he explained. “Support is available for you whenever you need it, and that is one of the main driving forces that has led us to be involved in social media and why we’re seeking to increase our involvement with it.” To Dr. Augustson’s knowledge, the Smokefree Women Facebook page is one of the first of its kind in the Federal government that seeks to deliver an intervention in this format.
Engaging younger female smokers in smoking cessation efforts is a priority for TCRB because quitting early in life can reduce the health consequences of smoking for both women and their children. Yet previous research has shown that white women in their 40s and 50s were the typical visitors of Smokefree.gov, which is the age that women start getting serious about their quit attempts, Dr. Augustson said.
The new Smokefree Women Web site and social media outreach strategy are intended to target women in their child-bearing years, with the Facebook videos engaging younger audiences so that they can hopefully quit smoking at a younger age, when the health benefits are most pronounced.
Using Web analytic software, TCRB staff will study how the use of the Facebook page and Smokefree Women Web site changes as a result of the video blogs. Who is participating in the online discussions, and what are they saying? The staff is also interested in how information is spread through other online channels, like Twitter, and whether the videos drive traffic to the Web site. This information will be used to refine the campaign and tools. TCRB staff also plan to share their results at scientific conferences.