Background: Prescription drug overdoses kill 44 people a day in the U.S. How do we as communicators raise awareness of this epidemic, highlight the dangers involved with prescription drug abuse, and promote solutions to reduce suffering and death? CDC took the personal approach on social media, and asked those directly impacted by this staggering problem to tell their story to help shape the national conversation surrounding this issue.
Program background: CDC’s Injury Center launched its social media campaign, When the Prescription Becomes the Problem, in April 2015 at the 2015 National RX Drug Abuse Summit. The campaign encourages individuals and organizations to share their six word story and an image – either a personal story or characterizing their work in this area. Participants can also join the conversation using the hashtag, “#RXProblem.” Combined with #RXProblem, the brevity of the six word story will help unite voices at multiple levels working to coordinate a response for prevention, encourage others to seek treatment for addiction, celebrate those working to change lives, and inspire communities to improve safety and the way we treat pain.
Evaluation Methods and Results: To gauge success, we will track the number of participants tagging posts #RxProblem as well as reach of and engagement with our original content and subsequent user-generated content through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The tone and quality of user-generated content along with the diversity and breadth of participants will help indicate the campaign successfully raised visiblity of this issue. We'll also monitor web traffic, email engagement, and partnership collaborations. In three weeks, approximately 1000 Twitter users have generated an estimated 19.5 million impressions using the hashtag #RXProblem. The campaign will conclude in May.
Conclusions: Everyone impacted by prescription drug abuse has a story to tell. Social media is a most effective platform on which to tell these stories, and when we tell stories in a compelling way, people want to share them and join in the storytelling. It was of utmost importance in this campaign that we developed compelling, high quality starter content to launch the effort, and move people to share. The personal stories and images become much more meaningful than a simple hashtag, although it's the hashtag that connects the conversation across social media. Combining compelling videos and powerful still images to tell highly emotional and personally moving stories with an easily identifiable hashtag that resonates with the audience helps build an ongoing conversation that challenges assumptions and helps change cultural norms about prescription opioids to prevent death and suffering.
Implications for research and/or practice: Many public health issues need to garner greater visibility to bolster prevention efforts. Providing a forum on social media where people can engage and share their own experiences is a productive and essential place to start. Even in this highly democratic space, people want to share stories that are packaged to be more compelling and evocative, especially when the issue carries stigma or contraversy. Social media provides a unique opportunity to share support and resources required to create movement for change.