A Twitter-based antismoking program called Tweet2Quit (a missed opportunity to be sure—clearly it should have been named ‘Quitter’) gives would-be quitters online support. It might not sound like much, but according to a report on its efficacy published in the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control, it's effective—if not more—as other methods for giving up cigarettes.
How successful was the program? After 60 days, participants reported "40% sustained abstinence." The control group reported half that, a 20% rate.
"Our current results indicate significant possibilities for using social media as a delivery mechanism for health prevention intervention, specifically in smoking cessation," said study lead Cornelia Pechmann. "Because of the low cost and high scalability of social media, Tweet2Quit has tremendous potential to deliver low-cost tobacco treatments on a global scale."
Tweet2Quit worked like this: Participants were given 56 days of nicotine patches, told to set a quit date in the next 7 days, and enrolled in Twitter groups. These groups comprised 20 people, and lasted for 100 days. The groups also contained another member, the Tweet2Quit bot, which sent ‘daily, automated communications.’ The idea was that the Tweet2Quit bot would encourage conversations in the group.
Support may be key when quitting, and while it’s certainly possible to go it alone, having a support group is arguably what makes things like the 12-step AA and NA programs so effective. And what better support group than an always available group of online peers?
"The twice-daily messages encouraged people to tweet their group members, which made them more accountable for quitting," said Pechmann. The design of the networks was also important. All the groups were private, using new Twitter accounts set up for the study, and no members were added during the 100-day program.
So while Twitter was the delivery mechanism, Tweet2Quit used the social network in a new way, overlying its own private networks on top of Twitter’s. This means that other networks could be used in future.
The next stage for Pechmann and her group is to investigate how these small social groups could work in the fields of health promotion and disease prevention "such as weight control and exercise."