Colon Cancer Awareness Month (every March) has goals like any other health observance: to increase awareness, change behavior, and raise funds to find a cure.

So why is it that Mayo Clinic chose this particular health observance for its pioneering efforts in social media?

For the answers, I talked to Lee Aase, Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Padilla has worked extensively with Mayo Clinic on initiatives like this to broadly share Mayo’s world-leading expertise – and influence – in research, education and patient care.

The culture of medicine in the first place is that you share what you know for the benefit of patients everywhere,” said Aase. “This was a prime opportunity to do that.”

Lee Aase, Director of Mayo Clinic Social Media Network; courtesty Mayo Clinic
Lee Aase, Director of Mayo Clinic Social Media Network

The “pitch” to join a cause

In 2014, one of Mayo’s physician leaders – gastroenterologist Dr. Paul Limburg – asked Mayo’s Public Affairs team to collaborate with Fight Colorectal Cancer, a leading national colorectal cancer nonprofit for which he served on the scientific advisory board, to promote screening for colorectal cancer.

Now, collaborating is in Mayo’s DNA. The Mayo brothers traveled extensively to share their knowledge and collaborate with other physicians – and invited them to Mayo to do the same. But that wasn’t the only factor in choosing colon cancer for a robust social media effort. Colon cancer is what Aase refers to as a “Golden Triangle disease,” one in which social media can do the most social good. Aase explains, “To be a Golden Triangle disease, colon cancer had to meet the following three criteria:

  1. It’s deadly: colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
  2. It’s highly treatable or even preventable: precancerous polyps identified during screening can be removed. And if found and treated at an early stage, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent, and
  3. Medically recommended screening or prevention techniques are underutilized: more than a third of U.S. adults were not up-to-date with their screening.

Pitch for PreventionWith this in mind, Mayo and Fight Colorectal Cancer held a “Pitch for Prevention” event at Target Field in Minneapolis.

While the event was well attended by cancer prevention advocates, the bigger impact resulted from Mayo’s live streaming of the event on its blog, reaching people far beyond the confines of Target Field.

 2015 – Making the impact even stronger

The number of colon cancer survivors nationwide is one million strong. So when Fight Colorectal Cancer came up with the Strong Arm Selfie campaign in 2015 to celebrate survivors and fund the fight against it, Mayo found a way to amp it up – and ramp up social media engagement – with a music video.

“Country music artist, Craig Campbell, had lost his father to colon cancer when he was a teenager and had written an anthem for colorectal cancer awareness, called ‘Stronger Than That,’” said Aase. “We got the idea that we could do a music video to his song that would involve Mayo Clinic patients and staff flexing their biceps to illustrate the idea that there are one million strong survivors of colon cancer.” To broaden the video’s appeal, Mayo Clinic engaged Padilla’s digital and creative teams to animate iconic statues for inclusion in the video. The Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial and the famed Mayo brothers all “struck the pose” to show their support for survivors – and surviving this disease.StrongArmSelfie1

The music video was viewed more than 70,000 times, and was instrumental in driving engagement with the broader social media campaign, where anyone could flex, take a selfie, and post it with the #StrongArmSelfie hashtag. By early April of 2016, total reach of the campaign was more than 57 million.
StrongArmSelfie2
2016 – Go big or go home

To say that in 2016 Mayo Clinic went above and beyond with its social media efforts for colon cancer awareness month is an understatement. “We got the idea that if Katie Couric can do her colonoscopy on NBC, somebody else could do their colonoscopy on Periscope, and that somebody was me,” said Aase. Aase stepped forward for several reasons. One, he was the right age for a colonoscopy; second, a good friend of his had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer; and third – by doing the procedure himself, it removed any concerns around patient consent and confidentiality. They decided to call the event #ScopeScope.

Building off of the previous year’s success, Mayo once again engaged Padilla to explore ways of maximizing the broadcast’s impact, before, during and after it aired. The cross-channel strategy even included a live, play-by-play account of Lee’s prep the night before, to help allay concerns (and excuses) about how difficult the prep really was.

That next morning, Lee was wheeled into the procedure room, where the Mayo physician walked viewers through the live colonoscopy and answered questions in real time.

Nasdaq“Not only was this a first for Periscope,” said Aase. “It was the first time in history Mayo had ever streamed live video of a procedure to a non-professional audience.

At the time of both the procedure and music video, Mayo Clinic was the most popular hospital channel on Periscope with more than 15,000 followers, and more than 1.25 million followers on Twitter and more than 885,000 Facebook likes.

The broadcast of #ScopeScope had more than 3,000 live viewers and 1,800 archived views. Additional videos were created for the Mayo Clinic News Network, as well as a 28-minute highlight video for YouTube. Together, those videos have 2,825 views on YouTube and also made appearances on Times Square’s NASDAQ jumbotron that has an average reach of one million per day resulting in an estimated 31 million impressions.

2017 – Countdown to 2018 event

With one year left to achieve the National Colorectal Council Round Table (NCCRT) goal of getting 80 percent of all eligible adults screened for colon cancer, Fight Colorectal Cancer, American Cancer Society and NCCRT organized a high profile event in New York City’s Time Square called “Countdown to 2018.” These organizations, with support from Mayo Clinic and Exact Sciences, brought their muscle (and social media channels) to the game, and news anchor Katie Couric and actor Luke Perry brought the star power.

To create buzz – and results – prior to and during the event, Fight Colorectal Cancer created and promoted a robust social media toolkit people could use to spread the word. By also broadcasting via Facebook Live during the event’s “blue carpet,” Mayo Clinic reached nearly 50,000 viewers. All told, the “countdown’s” total reach was 9.1 million, with 37.4 million impressions. 

Katie CouricThe most important result – and insight

Of course, the most important result – looking back at the campaign’s goals and criterion #3 of the Golden Triangle – was whether positive behavior change occurred. The answer is yes, and it continues. Mayo’s home town of Rochester, Minnesota is on target for the goal of getting 80 percent of eligible adults screened for colon cancer by 2018. Nationally, Aase says the campaign has reached 70 percent or more.

“This success was not a given when Mayo decided to put its social media resources behind colon cancer awareness,” said Aase. “The risks – and reasons to NOT do social media – were real.” Concerns over patient privacy and improper use of important health information are all amplified in the less controlled, real-time social media environment. “But the best way to prevent that from happening,” Aase continued, “is by embracing the technology and defining the standards by which your organization will use it – rather than having it defined for you.”

By employing the criteria of the Golden Triangle to focus your efforts, and engaging trusted partners and leveraging their reach, health organizations can successfully utilize social media for its highest and most valuable purpose – to save and improve lives.