Racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic and, according to CDC data, represent the majority of new AIDS diagnoses, new HIV infections, people living with HIV/AIDS, and AIDS deaths. At the same time, the Pew Internet & American Life Project recently reported that communities of color are also leaders in the use of the mobile web and many major social media platforms such as Twitter. AIDS.gov views these concurrent trends as an important opportunity to leverage these new and emerging communication tools to make a real difference in HIV prevention, care, and treatment among communities of color. So, in May AIDS.gov hosted its second roundtable discussion on communities of color and new media for our federal partners. The conversation brought together public health, new media, and community leaders across the nation to share best practices for leveraging emerging technologies to build the capacity of organizations and leaders responding to the HIV epidemic. These dialogues are part of ongoing efforts to fulfill the promise of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) (PDF 1.37MB). In addition, identifying and disseminating best practices is critical to achieving the objectives of the Digital Government Strategy (DGS) (PDF 660KB), recently released by the White House.
The Evolution of New Media
Panelists (PDF 360KB) kicked off the discussion by reflecting on how new media have evolved since 2009 (the last time AIDS.gov hosted a New Media and Communities of Color discussion). They noted that mobile device adoption and usage has soared and continues to do so. Shwen Gwee, Vice President of Digital Health at Edelman , observed that many more people are able to access and use mobile devices today than were able to do so even a few years ago due to reductions in cost and diversification of products and data plans. This trend has significant implications for those seeking to deliver HIV/AIDS and other health information online since, according to the Digital Government Strategy, by 2015 more Americans are projected to access the Internet via mobile devices than desktops PCs. Not only are mobile devices now more widely available, they have also shaped how new media enter our lives by making more information than ever before available anytime and anywhere. Participants also shared findings that people are becoming more comfortable with the tools and are less hesitant to use them to search for health information. Given these trends, it’s not surprising that the number of new media platforms has also increased. However, panelist Fard Johnmar of Enspektos, LLC reminded us that, “Content, not technology, is the key to reaching and engaging people about health and wellness online. Relevant and useful content has the ability to transcend media platforms and reach people where they live, work and play—whether they are using the tethered or untethered Web.”
Challenges with Using New Media to Engage Audiences
Despite the proliferation of mobile technologies and new media platforms, the roundtable observed that some challenges in reaching communities of color online remain. For example, digital divides in terms of connectivity and quality of access persist despite the changing mobile landscape. Social Media Strategist Shireen Mitchell noted that to effectively reach Latin American and African American communities, “If you’re not doing some form of [text messaging], you won’t be able to reach [all] of them” because not everyone has a smart phone with Internet access or applications (or “apps”). Similarly, other participants pointed out the limitations of reaching users of mobile devices in low income communities, which tend to be heavy users of “pay-as-you-go” plans that limit Internet usage. Phone sharing among family and friends also poses a challenge for targeting mobile users. Tony Aaron Fuller of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center also noted that members of some communities, especially some Native American communities, are so far behind the technology curve that they need help developing basic digital literacy skills such as typing, logging into a computer, and navigating the Internet.
Other panelists highlighted the difficulty in reaching non-English speakers, especially members of the Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Participants also noted that it’s extremely important to create culturally appropriate content in English and the native language of the audience you intend to reach. Another major challenge mentioned by the group was effectively targeting compelling messages to communities that are already bombarded with vast amounts of information, in part as a result of increased Internet connectivity.
Opportunities and Recommendations
Despite the challenges, the group also outlined a number of opportunities for successfully leveraging new media to engage communities of color:
- Remember your audience – While it’s easy to get excited by the newest technology, it’s important to take a step back and think about who your audience is. This is the foundation of the POST strategy (people – objectives – strategy – technology), which we’ve talked about before on this blog. You can use this as a framework for your planning efforts.
- Create once, repurpose often – Given the increase in the number of tools and platforms, it’s easy to get carried away creating a strategy for each communication channel you use. But it’s more important to develop compelling content tailored to the needs of your audience and then repurpose that content over various new media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or other channels.
- Keep it simple – Although mobile devices and new media platforms continue to increase in number, bear in mind that many people still rely on “old school” technologies like email and text messaging. So don’t forget them when planning your strategy.
- Build relationships – As one participant noted, “People trust people and need to trust people they know. They don’t trust entities and they don’t trust buildings.” Build a relationship with your audience by consistently sharing relevant content and engaging in a two-way conversation.
- Bridge online and offline interactions – Bring together community leaders and online influencers in the communities you want to reach and find out how you can work together. Tweetups are one way to achieve this goal.
As one panelist reminded us at the conclusion of the conversation, “Technology is great, but it’s really about the content and the people – and connecting the content to the people. New media are just tools to do that.”
AIDS.gov will continue this conversation at “The State of New Media and HIV,” a satellite session at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday, July 23, from 6:30–8:30 p.m. If you are attending the conference, we hope you can join us! You can also follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #newmediaHIV.
We also want to know what are some challenges you’ve faced when using new media to engage with communities of color? Do you have any successes or best practices you would like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know more about your work in the comments section below.