Background: The Appalachian Region has been especially impacted by the opioid epidemic. While other states have seen prescription drug overdose rates decline, five states in Appalachia (West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee) saw statistically significant increases in death rates between 2014 and 2015. Those same states also ranked in the top 10 for overall highest age adjusted rates of death due to drug overdose in 2015.1 Community-based organizations (CBOs) in Appalachia are uniquely positioned to lead prevention efforts in their areas, but often have few resources to conduct traditional communication campaigns. Social media is an excellent and cost effective tool for CBOs to use to increase their outreach efforts and has the potential to enhance prevention, treatment, and recovery from opioid abuse.2 Many CBOs in the Appalachian Region desire to use social media to connect with their audiences, but lack expertise in how to use social media effectively.
Program background: Beginning in 2016, ORAU and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) led a pilot program to educate and train five Appalachian CBOs in using social media to effectively communicate with their audiences about substance abuse. Each organization received onsite training and technical assistance to develop effective content, increase reach and engagement, launch new social media channels (e.g., Instagram, Snapchat), and monitor metrics to continuously improve their strategies. Trainings were customized to align with each organization’s specific goals, objectives, and current capacity and focused on utilizing free social media tools. The pilot program was expanded in 2017 and will serve 5 additional CBOs this year.
Evaluation Methods and Results: There is limited data available on social media usage within Appalachia and no published data on using social media to address opioid and other substance abuse in the region. Given this lack of best practices specific to the region and topic, ORAU focused the in-person training design on best practices for using social media for nonprofits and health communications in general. Staff analyzed each CBO’s current social media content and performance metrics to provide customized recommendations during the training. ORAU continued to monitor CBO efforts and social media metrics to provide customized technical assistance and to evaluate the success of the pilot program.
Conclusions: Participant evaluations indicated there was tremendous value in participating in the training. Specifically, they felt it increased their knowledge of how to develop an effective social media strategy, and equipped them with necessary tools to implement their strategy. In the months that followed, participating organizations produced impressive results. For example, in less than two months, Operation UNITE in Somerset, Kentucky, delivered opioid abuse prevention messages to more than 24,225 people. When UNITE measured the effectiveness of its messaging, results showed the reach and engagement on its Facebook page increased by 40% and 86% respectively.
Implications for research and/or practice: The need for ongoing training in social media, as well as overall communication strategy, is evident. Additional work in opioid prevention should address building communication capacity within community-based organizations in the Appalachian region. References: (1) CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html; (2) Scott, Nelson, Meisel, & Perrone, 2015