For many HIV/AIDS agencies, social media can be an effective tool to build awareness and knowledge, recruit community members to participate in prevention and care programs, promote community events, and increase HIV testing. Nevertheless, simply having a social media presence is often not enough to meet these goals.
How can HIV/AIDS prevention and care organizations use social media to move their target audience to action?
Iris House , an HIV/AIDS agency in New York, has approached this question by training social media peer mentors. LOVE YOUR LIFE, a Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-funded program, aims to build awareness and decrease stigma related to substance abuse, mental health, and HIV/AIDS. The Iris House LOVE YOUR LIFE program has engaged members of the community to be “social media peer mentors.” These mentors develop HIV prevention and substance use prevention messaging that can be shared on their own social networks. They help expand the reach of the substance abuse prevention, mental health services, and HIV/AIDS prevention and care messages beyond Iris House’s online community.
LOVE YOUR LIFE social media peer mentors are recruited from Iris House HIV prevention and care programs, local colleges and universities, and high schools. The social media peer mentors represent African American and Hispanic women, transgender women, and young men who have sex with men.
After peer mentors are recruited they receive a wide range of training. The peer mentors are not only trained on substance abuse, mental health, and HIV/AIDS topics and resources, but they also receive training on how to maximize social media reach and develop effective and relevant messages that will resonate with their social networks. Jeffrey Padilla, an Iris House health educator, tells us that, “Peer Mentors have been trained to disseminate safer sex messages within their social media sites (Facebook) by utilizing positive messages or language that creates a safe conversation or (cyber environment) around HIV without breaking confidentiality to their friends/network. Through such effort we are tagging along with campaigns such as “Testing Make Us Stronger” and “Start Talking. Stop HIV” to educate/familiarize mentors on the different resources available to them on social media sites or apps.”
Once they receive their training, social media peer mentors use existing federal, local, and community resources to create text, photo, and video content that they share on their personal and Iris House Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Social media peers also promote several National HIV/AIDS Awareness Days and participate in awareness day community events. Each post includes Iris House tags and hashtags so that program staff can track and measure the level of engagement.
TA to Mentors
After the training, social media peer mentors have access to technical assistance and any additional social media assistance for the extent of their involvement in the program.
Michael Barret Jones, Director of Development, Social Media, and Advocacy, told us, “So far, Iris House programs have trained 45 peer mentors, resulting in HIV and substance abuse messaging reaching more than 1,000 people who’ve never heard of Iris House or the work we do in Harlem and the South Bronx. Talking to people in their own language and on their own platforms is critical in getting to zero.”
Training community social media advocates to develop and share HIV/AIDS content within their social networks is an opportunity to make relevant and accurate messages that move people to action. This approach can also significantly reduce HIV/AIDS stigma within our communities. According to Ken DeJesus, the project director, “Our peer mentors have used this approach to deliver prevention messages on social media and during outreach. The fact that their family and friends see someone like themselves encouraging others to participate in a national testing or awareness day has been empowering. This approach helps to reduce stigma and to get the message across about the importance of HIV testing.”
What is an innovative way you are encouraging social media engagement regarding HIV/AIDS in your community?
Iris House, established in 1993, provides comprehensive services and advocacy for women, families, and communities infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, while providing prevention and education services for their clients and at-risk communities. To learn more about Iris house programs you can visit http://www.irishouse.org/ .