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How Twitter can help smokers quit

The study by UC Irvine and Stanford University involved a new technique which has so far not been used in similar social media forums. Led by Judith J. Prochaska, associate professor of medicine at Stanford, the study has recently been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Unlike other forums, daily “automessages” were sent by trained counselors to encourage and guide the online exchanges. However, the professionals did not directly participate in or facilitate the discussions, nor respond to anyone’s tweets.

The automessages had the effect of stimulating interaction and reinforcing participants’ motivation. The group discussions which followed were based on the members supporting one another. However, as in all group dynamics, non-professional group leaders emerged, who helped facilitate the interactions and keep people involved and committed.

Cornelia Pechmann, professor of marketing at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business said on the UCI website that “The twice-daily messages encouraged people to tweet their group members, which made them more accountable for quitting.” Clear spikes in the number of tweets were seen after the directed messages were sent, at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

According to Psypost,

“Tweet2Quit’s hybrid approach combines automated messages with the social media element. The prompts are based on clinical guidelines for smoking cessation and employ positive, open-ended questions that encourage online discussion, such as “What will you do when you feel the urge to smoke?” On average, about 23 percent of tweets were in response to these automated texts, while 77 percent were spontaneous.

The report also showed that there were certain types of tweets, which were particularly helpful for maintaining abstinence,

Nature Word News quoted the study which explained that,

“Specifically, Tweet2Quit members tweeted about various subjects, including setting a quit date, using nicotine patches, countering roadblocks, utilizing self-rewards, believing in themselves and feeling pride. And the more they tweeted at each other, the more likely they were to remain smoke-free.”

Pechmann added,

“Support, accountability, advice and bragging rights are a few of the benefits that make social media a promising platform for self-help groups. However, while health-related online forums, blogs and websites can be informative, they lack the instantaneous interaction of Twitter.”

Participation in the two consecutive Tweet2Quit groups was high. 78 percent of members tweeted and the average number of tweets per person was 72, and 60 percent continued to tweet after 30 days had past

The study involved two closed groups of 20 people and lasted 100 days. Participants received a free supply of nicotine patches and were encouraged to develop a plan for quitting using an online guide.

The findings showed a 42 percent success rate in the first group. The researchers then used lessons learned from that trial to fine tune the automessaging process. Consequently, the success rate for Group No. 2 increased to an impressive 75 percent.

For more information on Tweet2Quit, visit tweet2quit.merage.uci.edu.

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