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Using Social Networking to Promote HIV Testing

Posted Jun 18 2013 9:00am

By Aisha Moore , Communications Director, AIDS.gov

At , the world’s largest HIV conference, a new media declaration was released which encouraged stakeholders in the HIV community to assess how they can use new media to extend the reach of their HIV program messages. For National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), June 27 , I have gathered a few examples of organizations that have used online social networking strategies to extend the reach of their HIV testing and prevention programs.

Putting People First

Do 1 ThingI spoke with Annajane Yolken of the Do One Thing Exit Disclaimer initiative in Philadelphia, a neighborhood-based HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing and treatment program that includes community mobilization, a social marketing campaign, a partnership with a federally qualified health center, and door-to-door outreach and testing. As part of developing their social marketing strategy, Do One Thing held focus groups and key informant interviews with their stakeholders. One of the recommendations from those conversations was to use social media as a way to reinforce the program’s in-person community activities. Outside of using Twitter and Facebook for their HIV testing outreach, their Facebook page has become a way to engage and energize their volunteers. They have noticed that their volunteers are very engaged on the page and they happily share pictures of HIV testing and other community events. The Facebook page showcases their work, demystifying and hopefully reducing stigma around HIV testing.

Engagement Pays Off

HARC Mobile UnitHIV/AIDS Resource Center Exit Disclaimer (HARC), an AIDS services organization serving southeastern Michigan, has used social media since 2009. Jimena Loveluck, the Executive Director, explained that all of their social media work paid off when they won a Facebook contest sponsored by a local community bank. The bank ran a Facebook contest where community organizations could submit a short profile and describe their need. The project with the most votes would win a small amount of funding for their project. HARC entered the contest in hope of winning money for a new mobile HIV testing van. With 500 Facebook followers, they used that base of people to not only get votes but to spread the word about the contest. They also used the contest as an opportunity to educate the southeastern Michigan community about the HIV epidemic in youth under 25. In the end, their follower count doubled and the bank funded the mobile testing van, despite HARC being the runner up in the contest. For NHTD this year, HARC is going to harvest the power of photo sharing and ask their followers to submit photos of the van when they see it out in the community.

Meeting Youth Where They Are

The Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic Exit Disclaimer offers integrated HIV and STD testing. A part of their outreach strategy is to use technology to reduce the stigma associated with testing among youth, with a particular focus on men who have sex with men. Ruth Buzi, the Director of Social Services, shared that using social media is critical because without it, “our reach to adolescents who are unaware of our services would have been limited.” An outreach worker has created an account on online dating sites (e.g., Mingle2 & OKCupid) that explicitly explains that he is an employee of Baylor Teen Health Clinic and the purpose of his presence is for outreach exclusively. The outreach worker contacts an average of ten individuals per day and invites people to contact him through e-mail if they have any questions concerning safer sex practices, HIV/STD information/treatment, and clinic services. The ultimate goal is for individuals to request information for one of the five community Baylor Teen Health Clinics. They track how many people receive care at their clinic through this outreach method.

These are just a few examples of the power of social media for promoting HIV testing. If you have not done so already, we recommend assessing if social media can enhance your HIV testing outreach efforts. Do you know of other examples of using social media to promote HIV testing? Please share them in the comments.

Meico Whitlock, AIDS.gov Consultant, also contributed to this post.

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