36572 Strategically Using Hashtags to Increase Social Media Engagement and Awareness about Domestic Violence Prevention during Health Observance

Alan Williams, BA, Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA, Marie Ballman, MPH, Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chamblee, GA, Lindsey Willis, BA, Health Program, Health Communication and Social Marketing Group, American Institutes for Research, Silver Spring, MD and Tiffany Brewer, MA, Health Program, Health Communication and Social Marketing Group, American Institutes for Research, New York, NY

Background:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Violence Prevention is committed to informing audiences about preventing violence before it happens, including intimate partner violence. CDC established the VetoViolence Facebook page to increase awareness and adoption of evidence-based approaches to prevent violence through sharing action-oriented violence prevention messages. The page utilizes the branded hashtag #VetoViolence in messaging, allowing users to join and track conversations, show their commitment to preventing violence, and inspire others to do the same.

Program background:  In recognition of the Violence Against Women Act’s (VAWA) 20th year, CDC and the U.S. Department of Justice launched “1 Photo, 6 Words. #VetoViolence” in August 2014. The project encouraged fans to share their commitment to preventing violence against women, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence with the rest of the country through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using “#VetoViolence.” Participants could compose six words and take a photo or create a unique image that promoted healthy relationships for everyone, illustrated an America without violence, or celebrate VAWA. Selected images from numerous submissions posted in August 2014 to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were promoted in observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2014, using #VetoViolence. Fans again were encouraged to create “1Photo, 6Words. #VetoViolence.” These efforts were non-existent in October 2013.

Evaluation Methods and Results: CDC compared Facebook engagement between October 2013 and October 2014 using post reach, impressions, likes, and shares. None of the 2013 posts used the hashtag while one third (10 out of 31) of the 2014 posts did. Average post reach almost quadrupled, from 966 (2013) to 3,534 (2014), and average post impressions almost tripled, from 2,140 (2013) to 7,038 (2014), despite a negligible increase in fans (8%) over the year. Average likes (from 10 in 2013 to 79 in 2014) and shares (from 4 in 2013 to 27 in 2014) for the month’s posts increased seven-fold. Posts using the hashtag generally had the highest engagement of the month across measures. Further, hashtag mentions on Twitter more than doubled from October 2013 to October 2014.

Conclusions:  By including the #VetoViolence hashtag as a central part of “1 Photo, 6 Words. #VetoViolence” project and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, CDC enhanced efforts to strengthen online conversations and grow post engagement about violence prevention. This finding is proven in significant increases in Facebook page- and post-level engagement metrics between periods when the hashtag was actively promoted and when it was not, given an otherwise similar social media environment.

Implications for research and/or practice: We found the use of hashtag #VetoViolence in relation to an event or observance further drives the spread of messages and encourages engagement. Promoting a branded hashtag increases online engagement by allowing social media users to join and share conversations on a focused topic.  Including a hashtag in social media dialogue in association with events and observances amplifies post reach, which increases awareness and audience engagement and inspires action to promote prevention.