Background: The implications for online user-generated content (UGC) are well-documented in areas of consumerism and civic engagement; however, documentation is lacking in the public health space, especially in how online UGC can influence behavior change. Research suggests that content generation online stimulates recognition, cognition, social interaction, and entertainment. This study demonstrates combining UGC with audience interest targeting can increase the reach of anti-tobacco messaging among young adults.
Program background: Commune is a tobacco-prevention program in San Diego and San Francisco, CA that targets young adults interested in local art, music, and fashion, a subpopulation shown to be at high-risk for tobacco use.
Evaluation Methods and Results: Two campaigns were launched that encouraged user-generated content as a means of increasing engagement with an anti-tobacco message. The first, Art Against Animal Cruelty, asked young adults to create art using the anti-tobacco message as inspiration. Submitted artwork was presented for peer voting and winning artists received a monetary prize. Popular artists from both cities participated, which further amplified and legitimized the campaign. The second campaign, Help a Hipster, focused on the fact that smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day costs an estimated $1,200 per year. Young adults submitted examples of personal projects that could be funded by substituting the cost of these cigarettes. Evaluation measurements for these campaigns included the number of submissions, votes, increase in social media following, total engaged young adults and the total number of engagements (clicks, likes, shares, etc.). Art Against Animal Cruelty reached 358,068 young adults and resulted in 2,703 new followers on Facebook. 9,963 young adults engaged with the campaign online generating 30,523 total online engagements (clicks, shares, likes, comments, etc.) across social media. 21 artists created artwork and entered the contest, generating 2,154 total votes. Help a Hipster reached 783,565 young adults and resulted in 1,622 new followers on Facebook. 14,320 young adults engaged with the campaign online generating 37,667 total online engagements across social media. 124 young adults entered their personal projects in the contest, generating 2,135 total votes.
Conclusions: Results indicate that online UGC campaigns can be an effective way to generate engagement around an anti-tobacco message.
Implications for research and/or practice: This study suggests that encouraging UGC may be a useful strategy for public health campaigns targeting young adult social media users. Social media sites are designed to encourage interaction, or a two-way flow of communication. Rather than post content created by campaign staff alone, allowing members of a campaign’s target audience to take a degree of ownership of campaign messaging can generate increased engagement and reach. Incorporating UGC can be done with relatively little risk if it is incorporated into a campaign’s strategy thoughtfully, with monitoring and evaluation protocols in place prior to launch.