Experts: Universities Should Use Social Media to Reduce Student Drinking

Universities should use social media to convince students to reduce their drinking, according to a group of alcohol and public health experts. They suggest borrowing tactics from the alcohol industry to target alcohol-related messages toward specific groups.

The experts met at Boston University to discuss how to use social media to reach college students with anti-drinking messages. In a report on the meeting, the experts said educational quizzes could be targeted at students less likely to engage in risky drinking. Messages about therapy and rehab could be sent to students who may have alcohol dependence, Forbes reports. Messages could be tailored to a particular college’s drinking culture, the experts noted.

“I think for any organization trying to curtail alcohol use or binge drinking, it’s almost imperative to have a social media presence because that’s where the kids are,” said Michael Siegal , a professor at Boston University who studies the effects of marketing on youth substance use. “Especially since it looks like the alcohol companies have a presence, it can’t be a one-way street.”

Siegal and colleagues found that in 2012, 898 alcohol brands had 1,017 separate sponsored Facebook webpages, including individual pages and accounts. “There has been a lot of attention with alcohol advertising paid to traditional advertising, like magazines and TV. This shows us there’s this other area of alcohol promotion that we really need to consider,” he said.

The new report notes that students organize their academic and social lives through their phones and social media. Using social media is less expensive than in-person screening, intervention or counseling, they note. Messages can be triggered by a student’s online behavior, and can be customized based on an individual’s level of risk.

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    June 24, 2015 at 1:34 PM

    This line is a little creepy: “Messages can be triggered by a student’s online behavior, and can be customized based on an individual’s level of risk.” But commercial marketers are likely already honing in on individuals so why not use this e-data for a good cause? There is research that authoritative messages about risky behavior can alter that behavior. If the messages can be targeted and delivered via e-devices instead of live counselors, they can reach a lot more folks.

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