Build a Butt: Social Media for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Michelle    July 7, 2015

Organization: Waterloo Wellington Regional Cancer Program

Industry: Healthcare

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Description of how social media is used for business performance

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon and/or rectum, and is a leading cause of cancer death for Canadians. In 2015, 1 in 14 men and 1 in 16 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer – approximately 25,000 Canadians. Using data from 2010, an estimated 1 in 29 Canadian men and 1 in 32 Canadian women will die from colorectal cancer. However, colorectal cancer deaths are in decline, most likely due to increases in screening.

Colorectal cancers often begin as benign polyps lining the large bowel wall. These are detectable through a stool test, and, once detected, are highly treatable. The majority of colorectal cancer cases are preventable, and screening has a significant impact on reducing colorectal cancer deaths. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends men and women over 50 have a stool test every 2 years to screen for colorectal cancer.

In 2015, the Waterloo Wellington Regional Cancer Program partnered with Erie St. Clair Regional Cancer Program to hold the second annual “Build a Butt” contest in honour of Colon Cancer Awareness Month (March). Residents in Erie St. Clair and Waterloo Wellington are asked to submit a ‘butt’ built out of any material (cake, snow, and balloons are popular choices) along with a story about the impact of cancer or cancer screening to the Build a Butt Facebook page. Three winners from each region are chosen in the categories of “most compelling story”, “most creative butt”, and “most Facebook likes”.

Build a Butt 2015 Entry: Stephanie McIntosh – Arthur, ON

Build a Butt aims to increase awareness of colorectal cancer screening, and, hopefully, to increase rates of screening in the region.

We see the contest as a great vehicle to get the conversation started and to break those barriers,” said Lori Temple, marketing co-ordinator for integrated cancer screening/Waterloo Wellington Regional Cancer Program.

Social media is an obvious choice for public health campaigns where building awareness is the primary goal. Social media allows for the ‘awareness’ message to become interactive and the Build a Butt campaign certainly encourages the community to engage with the message “colorectal cancer screening saves lives” in a unique and fun way.

To measure “awareness”, one could use fairly straightforward social media metrics – how many Facebook “likes” or “shares” exist on the Build a Butt campaign page, and how many Twitter friends they have. Perhaps an even better measurement would be ‘reach’, or “how many eyeballs saw this (divide by two)”. The concept of reach is simple – if Sally has 50 Facebook friends and she posts an entry to the Build a Butt contest, then theoretically 50 people were made aware of the Build a Butt contest.

The Build a Butt Facebook page currently has 579 “likes”. The 2015 contest generated 57 entries on Facebook, earning a total of 1079 “likes”, 224 “shares” and 113 comments. The Twitter page is underutilized, with only 19 total tweets and 7 followers. However, Facebook is better suited to contest entries, which consist of a photograph and a story longer than 140 characters.  That indicates a fairly significant reach via social media, and excluding the news media coverage they receive. This is the contest’s second year – as it grows, one would expect the reach to grow as well.

There’s less data on how social media campaigns for public health influence behaviour. Public Health Ontario has been influential in developing the use of social media in public health units across Ontario. In 2012, they funded a Locally Driven Collaborative Project on the subject, delivered through the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit and supported by Middlesex-London Health Unit Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit and Toronto Public Health also collaborated on the project. The Social Media Toolkit for Ontario Public Health Units (February 2014) outlines several suggestions for the qualitative and quantitative measurement of social media success for public health campaigns, however, in their literature review, they do note the difficulties in evaluating the actual impact of a social media campaign on behavioral change. In a literature review commissioned by the Peel Public Health Unit, the authors note “it is highly likely that health-focused social media communications and information-exchange could have a significant impact on behaviour relevant to public health, but as yet we have no proof of principle” (Pg. 24).

Unfortunately, the most recently available data on colorectal screening rates is from 2013, the year before the Build a Butt contest started. Additionally, the contest targets a wide cross section of the community, with entries from university students and children (including a grade 7 class) and university students – with a recommended screening age of “over 50”, these individuals are unlikely to personally benefit until after 2045 – making it difficult to evaluate.

Lessons Learned:

Despite difficulties evaluating the effect of social media on health-related behaviour change, there’s still value in social media for public health campaigns. The Build a Butt campaign has great reach via Facebook, and, more importantly, are effectively leveraging social media to get the community to interact with the message, rather than simply broadcasting it. One would assume this will have a stronger impact on the long-term colorectal cancer screening rates, as people are more likely to remember something they actively engaged in rather than a message they read.

Submitted By:  Michelle Maw

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