Who are we?
The Office of HIV/AIDS Housing (OHH) is a small, six-person office in the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. We are responsible for administering a program called “Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS” (HOPWA), the only Federal program dedicated to addressing the supportive housing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS and their families. Therefore, it is vital for us to engage in interactive communication and outreach about current housing needs with grantees, project sponsors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders.
Why did we decide to join Twitter?
As our grantees have changed the way they access information, the ever evolving distribution of electronic communication is challenging, and we strive to be current and responsive. We make electronic resources for our grantees available on the OHH website , and we use a listserv to provide updates. We also work with our federal partners through AIDS.gov to share, educate, and communicate important program updates and initiatives. While these continue to be great ways for us to quickly get information to our grantees, we realized that these methods are very one-sided. We found that valuable information might not be reaching the right people at the the right time because it was getting lost in their email, deleted by accident, or was not always easy to find on our website, which has a lot of information.
Will Rudy, Acting Director of OHH, said: “Twitter seemed like a logical move to provide a more interactive platform to communicate universally and facilitate discussion and comment on the provision of HOPWA housing assistance. Our first tweet as @HUD_HOPWA portrays our goal to bring timely, relevant information to our followers and also hear about their needs.”
Twitter Lessons: Learned and Shared
You have to follow to be followed: With our first tweet, the excitement was overwhelming in our office, and we were certain those already on Twitter, who knew HOPWA, would rush to follow us. That did not happen. But we were determined to be proactive, so we went looking for relevant people to follow. In our first hour on Twitter, we started following over 40 people who are relevant to those we wanted to follow us. We were excited to find so many HOPWA grantees and Federal partners. Our first day on Twitter ended with 5 followers, 2 tweets, and 1 re-tweet!
Twitter is about reciprocity: Day 2 on Twitter brought us more of the interaction we needed. @AIDS.gov and @HUDgov welcomed us to Twitter with a mention, making our Twitter handle more visible because their followers would also be able to see and follow us. This kind of cross-promotion gives us additional credibility and shows our followers that we are being supported by organizations and programs that also offer valuable information for them.
Direct engagement is a plus: It is important for a program like HOPWA to have a platform where we can interact with stakeholders to discuss HIV housing and share our resources. We recognized that one of the main advantages of social media is being able to engage directly with our audiences and partners, and we experienced our first major success when we were able to have a real-time conversation with one of our HOPWA grantees. To take it a step further, we had appreciated the mentions and were looking forward to further interaction! So, we decided to congratulate CDC’s @talkHIV on their great new campaign through a mention.
Keep it short, make it visual, and use popular hashtags: We started experimenting with graphics when we found it difficult to keep our messages within the 140-character limit. We also used graphics to bring attention to tweets we found important. #FactFriday has become one of our favorite hashtags because it gives us a way to share interesting facts about HIV and housing.
@HUD_HOPWA will be celebrating our 1-month “Twitterversary” tomorrow, October 29, 2014. Although we have only been on Twitter for a short time, we are navigating the learning curve and finding effective ways to interact with our grantees and other stakeholders. We know that methods of communicating are changing, and we are committed to using the channels that will effectively get information to the people and organizations that need it.
Follow us on Twitter @HUD_HOPWA and join us in discussing HIV issues with a focus on housing needs for the HIV community.