High school seniors can send hundreds of them in a day. The show American Idol depends on them. And staffers for presidential campaigns are using them to contact potential donors and voters.
“They” are text messages–and they are fast becoming a preferred form of communication for many Americans. During June 2007, Americans sent 28.8 billion text messages!
Text messaging is a way of sending information to and from cell phones and certain personal digital assistants(PDAs). To send a message, you can type it directly into your cell phone, using the number/letter keys on the keypad. Text messages are easy to send, and we are seeing growing use by those of all ages.
For World AIDS Day, the AIDS.gov team and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started working with the Kaiser Family Foundation to promote text messaging for HIV testing. Mobile phone users can send a text message with their zip code to “KNOWIT” (566948). Within seconds, they receive a text message with information on nearby HIV testing sites.
And text messaging is being used in all kinds of new and interesting ways:
- In California, a city health department allows clients to text questions about HIV/AIDS.
- In Australia, texting helps AIDS patients adhere to complicated drug regimens.
We are often asked, “How can HIV/AIDS programs benefit from text messaging?” To help us explain this key new media tool, we spoke with Erin Dixon, Acting Senior Advisor for Partnerships at the CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, and Tina Hoff, Vice President and Director of Entertainment Media Partnerships at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Text messaging is critical to public health initiatives because it allows us to reach audiences in a way they prefer,” explained Erin, “Young people in particular seem to prefer this technology, and by getting on board with it we extend our reach and our ability to get information to those who need it.”
Tina agreed, “If you ignore new media tools, you miss out on an opportunity to reach millions of people who rely on these tools as a form of communication. Incorporating these tools is just part of a good media plan.”
- Personal—each phone is connected to a particular person
- Ubiquitous—people often carry them at all times
- Connected—they allow you to connect to peers, caregivers, and other resources for support and information
Erin and Tina acknowledge that there are also some challenges associated with text messaging. “There are character limits for messages, and there are costs associated with texting,” Tina says. “We have to be conscious of that–but texting is a real opportunity to connect with our audience and share information.”
How has text messaging reached a person living with, or at risk for, HIV/AIDS?
We tested the KNOWIT campaign with MTV, which did on-air promotion,” Tina told us. “That month, we got close to 15,000 textmessages. People got the information when and where they needed it, and they could follow up and call an HIV center right away.” And in Connecticut, the local health department aired PSAs on local radio stations that brought in over a 100 inquiries for HIV testing sites.
In November 2007, five students from the New Media Institute at the University of Georgia teamed up with students and faculty from four universities, three AIDS organizations, and Verizon Communications to develop AIDS Personal Public Service Announcements. The project is testing a new mobile production model to create messages that can be sent to young people’s cell phones encouraging them to be tested for HIV.
How can you start your own text messaging campaign?
If you want to start your own text messaging campaign, Tina says, “I would certainly talk to people who are using text messaging. It will open up ideas about how you can apply text messaging to public health issues. We’re trying to tap into text messaging and how people are using it in their personal lives. If you’re putting out information that young people want, there seems to be a real receptiveness to that format.”
There are many ways to conduct a text messaging campaign. Several texting service companies our colleagues have worked with include:
In a few weeks, the AIDS.gov team will be participating in and reporting from Texting4Health, a conference that will focus entirely on text messaging and health, which is sponsored by BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab and the CDC. One of the key speakers at the conference will be Richard Adler from the Institute for the Future and the author of the important report, Health Care Unplugged: The Evolving Role of Wireless Technology.
Other public health examples using text messaging include:
We hope you will explore ways to adopt this new media tool to fight HIV/AIDS — either by promoting existing campaigns or creating your own. Let us know what you learn, and share your experiences in the comments below.
Stay tuned for next week’s discussion of wikis!