Utilizing Social Media for Breast Cancer Awareness: The Success of Indigenous Pink Day

February 10, 2016
Julia Jacobson

Julia Jacobson is a 2015-2016 College Health Corps VISTA member serving with the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) in Minneapolis. She works closely with AICAF staff to craft health community messaging on the risks of smoking and importance of cancer screening for American Indian and Alaska Native populations. Recently she helped to spearhead a highly successful campaign called Indigenous Pink which focused on breast cancer awareness. Read on to learn more about AICAF’s success in her own words.

Beginning my post-college job search last year, I knew I wanted to seek experience in the health field but was not sure how. I majored in journalism, so anything medical was out of the question. I also did not want to work in a clinic or a hospital. In addition, opportunities in health care with my particular background seemed uncommon.

When I heard about AmeriCorps and the Minnesota College Health Corps program, I knew I had to apply. I was offered a position with the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF), a national nonprofit that addresses the cancer inequities faced by American Indian and Alaska Native communities. As the daughter of a cancer survivor, I instantly connected with AICAF’s mission and passion.

My service focuses on increasing early detection and preventing cancer in American Indians and Alaska Natives through communications. American Indians and Alaska Natives have some of the highest rates of cancer in the U.S. and cancer kills more American Indians than any other disease. Yet many people do not know about the unique burdens Native people face. Lack of transportation, mistrust of the medical system and lack of access to quality care may prevent people from seeking the care they need.

At AICAF, I raise awareness of cancer burdens in American Indians and Alaska Natives through a variety of channels. I develop campaigns, plan social media, fundraise, create resources, and design digital toolkits. In collaboration with AICAF staff, my program responsibilities include leading efforts to connect American Indians who smoke commercial tobacco to cessation services using social media, developing communication plans to promote the HPV vaccine, and creating messaging for our colorectal cancer screening program.

An important role I support is to ensure AICAF is recognized as the voice of American Indian/Alaska Native people in discussions on cancer. For example, some staff and I were discussing October’s breast cancer awareness month one day when we realized there were no American Indian-specific awareness campaigns. At first we were surprised, but then chose to take action. We decided to create a social media campaign about the importance of early detection and recognizing survivors. We named our campaign “Indigenous Pink” and announced the first ever “Indigenous Pink Day” on October 21, 2015.

We encouraged people to participate by wearing pink, sharing a selfie, using the hashtag #IndigenousPink, changing their cover photo to our #IndigenousPink image, and urging their friends and family to be screened. Together we created a Facebook event page, wrote messages to share on our channels, developed an Indigenous Pink cover photo, and shared information on various ways people could participate.

Our event was incredibly successful. Thousands of people shared selfies and the #IndigenousPink image, encouraging women to seek screening. In addition to being published by many Native media outlets, our story was picked up by 101 mainstream outlets, reaching millions of readers. On Facebook, #IndigenousPink reached over 50,000 users across the U.S. and thousands more participated by sharing images and joining our event. Our news story was one of our most successful stories to date and was published by media across the country. Indigenous Pink Day will now be an annual event and we look forward to expanding awareness next year.

After my year of service, I am not yet sure what opportunities I will pursue. My experience serving with AICAF has led me to develop new strengths and talents I did not know I had, which I will be forever grateful for. Cancer is an incredibly important issue to me and I am honored to do this work.

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