Viral Spread of a Quit Smoking Intervention Through Facebook Social Networks

Online Social Networks for Dissemination of Smoking Cessation Interventions

Reaching smokers with proven quit smoking interventions has long been a challenge within public health. Advertising campaigns can reach a large number of smokers with public health messages, but they are expensive to run and often do not result in large numbers of participants or users. The goal of this study was to examine whether existing connections within a large social network could be used to spread a quit smoking intervention. Essentially, this study examined whether a quit smoking Facebook app would “go viral” and what specific features would make this more likely to happen. This study recruited over 9000 adult U.S. smokers using Facebook advertising and randomly assigned them to one of 12 different versions of the app.

From this study, we learned that participants that used a version of the app that allowed them to actively share content from the app or specifically invite other people to use it ended up spreading the app to more people. These “active” diffusion elements were even more effective when users also had a greater amount of content in the app to share with others. We had suspected that non-smokers might act as “bridges” between different groups of smokers who did not know each other and would help the app spread between clusters of smokers. However, we found that very few non-smokers installed the app and that those who did install it did not go on to share it with their smoking friends. This groundbreaking study is one of the first to explore how to use the power of social networks to help people quit smoking.