The Digital Agency for International Development

Social media for mobile engagement around HIV

By Anna on 16 July 2014

The role of social media in health engagement was the focus of one of the last sessions at Apticon 2014. Liz Fearon of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine posed the question - how can we use social media to promote HIV awareness in the developing world?

Michael Jenkins (MetaLab) kicked off with one of the key issues facing social media in developing countries - who has access to these technologies? Can targeting these channels be inclusive of vulnerable populations most in need of health care education? Nate Whitestone (Aptivate) highlighted the importance of choosing the right technology and anticipating what will be big and cheap in a particular region if you are to achieve an effective impact.

Social media has been successful in targeting younger demographics around sensitive health topics, Anna Watson (Sussex Global) for example cited the use of Facebook in Turkey to increase condom use. Communities of target groups for HIV awareness will likely be pre-existing on Facebook and Twitter, and so messages can be targeted either directly or through ad campaigns. Facebook, especially, is optimising its presence for the developing world, making it a solid option for ongoing engagement in the fleeting world of social media fads and apps.

Targeting some communities can become much more difficult, for example men who have sex with men (MSM). Can police access social networking sites and accounts in countries where MSM is illegal? Farai Matsika (The International HIV/ Aids Alliance) discussed his experiences of working in Uganda where MSM communities that had previously used social media as a safe place to arrange face-to-face meetings, share information and give advice were now scared that the police could infiltrate and monitor their accounts. This lack of online trust effectively closes them to the possibility of engagement around health.

Farai pointed out that, in the fast paced world of social media, when new things are made there are risks that come with it; commenting that ‘when cars were invented 100’s of people died in accidents’. Other networks such as Grindr have evolved as new platforms to enable ongoing engagement, and as technology prices continue to plummet issues around access are also likely to reduce.

As a greater diversity of users access a widening variety of platforms, the scope for HIV engagement will only increase. Development practitioners should endeavour to understand the trends in the region they’re targeting in order to engage in an impactful and culturally sensitive way. Consistent, targeted social media use in a promotion opportunity not to be missed!

For more information on social media in development join the Twitter community at #SoMe4D