Doctors' and Nurses' Social Media Ads Reduced Holiday Travel and Covid-19 Infections: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial
31 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2021 Last revised: 18 Apr 2022
Date Written: July 2021
During the COVID-19 epidemic, many health professionals started using mass communication on social media to relay critical information and persuade individuals to adopt preventative health behaviors. Our group of clinicians and nurses developed and recorded short video messages to encourage viewers to stay home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays. We then conducted a two-stage clustered randomized controlled trial in 820 counties (covering 13States) in the United States of a large-scale Facebook ad campaign disseminating these messages. In the first level of randomization, we randomly divided the counties into two groups: high intensity and low intensity. In the second level, we randomly assigned zip codes to either treatment or control such that 75% of zip codes in high intensity counties received the treatment, while 25% of zip codes in low intensity counties received the treatment. In each treated zip code, we sent the ad to as many Facebook subscribers as possible (11,954,109 users received at least one ad at Thanksgiving and 23,302,290 users received at least one ad at Christmas). The first primary outcome was aggregate holiday travel, measured using mobile phone location data, available at the county level: we find that average distance travelled in high-intensity counties changed by -0.993 percentage points (95% CI -1.616, -0.371, p-value 0.002) the three days before each holiday. The second primary outcome was COVID-19 infection at the zip-code level: COVID-19 infections recorded in the two-week period starting five days post-holiday declined by 3.5 percent (adjusted 95% CI [-6.2 percent, -0.7 percent], p-value 0.013) in intervention zip codes compared to control zip codes.
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