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Social Marketing

Social marketing interventions use marketing and communication strategies to increase knowledge and promote changes in behavior. HIV social marketing prevention campaigns may target specific populations and have increasingly focused on reaching high-risk adolescents who may be more difficult to engage through other prevention strategies.

Social media has become an important communication mechanism for both HIV prevention and treatment efforts, allowing people from all over the country, including more remote rural areas, access to pertinent HIV/AIDS information while still maintaining their anonymity and eliminating the need for travel.

Social marketing strategies have been developed to target people on a national scale as well as at local and regional levels. For example, one rural health department disseminates messages about HIV prevention and the importance of testing using a website, as well as Twitter and a department Facebook page. Other dissemination vehicles that can be used for social marketing interventions include text messaging, mobile phones, blogs, as well as print and other media. Social marketing campaigns may focus on improving knowledge about how to reduce risky behaviors and increasing use of condoms and other mechanisms to prevent HIV. Education about HIV transmission to increase knowledge of risk factors for acquiring the disease is a main component of many social marketing interventions.

Examples of Rural Social Marketing Interventions:

  • The Status is Everything Campaign from the African American Office of Gay Concerns allows New Jersey residents the option of using an anonymous email and texting program to identify the closest HIV testing site once they enter their home ZIP code. This initiative is targeted toward African American men who have sex with men.
  • The #HIVBEATS Campaign by the Greater Than AIDS Organization and the #endHIV Campaign, led by the Abzyme Research Foundation (ARF) in collaboration with YouTube, has launched a series of HIV prevention and education videos. The videos feature YouTube stars who are popular with LGBT youth, a target population that is at an increased risk of contracting HIV. These YouTube stars unravel common myths about HIV/AIDS and also share important HIV preventive information with the online audience.
  • The Knowyo Campaign through the Wyoming Department of Health uses the hashtag #make1count, which can be used on various social media platforms, to help spread the word about HIV and STI screenings. The campaign has also developed several YouTube videos about HIV education and prevention strategies targeting Wyoming youth ages 13 to 25.
  • We R Native is funded through the President's National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Indian Health Service and offers comprehensive health resources for Native youth with content developed by Native youth. The program offers tools for communities to implement interventions and content that meets identified needs. The website provides tools to connect with other Native youth, as well as a way to ask health questions of Native adults. The website also includes a text messaging service, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Considerations for Implementation

Several considerations are important for launching a successful social networking intervention to target HIV prevention. From a user perspective, access to social media platforms generally requires an internet connection and access to a computer or other mobile device. Maintenance and technical assistance related to social media activities should be factored into an organization's plans for social marketing. Resources and staff time are important in order to sustain a social media initiative. In addition, in some rural locations where the HIV prevalence is still relatively low, social marketing strategies may not be the best approach for targeting high-risk individuals and reaching people who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Program implementers should consider the costs, time, and staff resources required for implementing social marketing interventions. In some locations, health departments have successfully partnered with community-based organizations to implement these types of programs.

Social media enables people to access information remotely and anonymously. Content disseminated through social media should also be tailored to best fit the community. Intervention messages and content should always be culturally appropriate.

Resources to Learn More

Adolescents, Technology, and Reducing Risk for HIV, STDs, and Pregnancy
Outlines the importance of targeting adolescent populations at risk for HIV, STDs, and unwanted pregnancies through the use of social media tools. Examples of different types of interventions geared toward adolescents are also provided.
Author(s): Kachur, R., Mesnick, J., Liddon, N., et al.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Date: 2013

HIV Testing Sites & Care Services Locator
A useful tool for organizations wishing to provide easy access to HIV testing information on their website. Instructions on how to insert the widget into a website are provided. This widget allows the user to enter their zip code or city name into the search field to find nearby HIV testing sites.
Organization(s):, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Digital Tools
A comprehensive resource that provides best practices for using different types of media tools, specifically for sharing HIV/AIDS related news and content. The website provides many examples of recent social media posts on HIV/AIDS from various U.S. governmental organizations.

“Get Yourself Tested” Campaign
National campaign organized by MTV, a cable network with a teenage and adolescent demographic, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, to encourage testing for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides technical support for the campaign.
Organization(s): Kaiser Family Foundation, MTV, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Health Communicator's Social Media Toolkit
A general guide outlining strategies and best practices for utilizing social media platforms in order to spread health messages to a wide audience. Provides information on commonly used tools and also includes worksheets for developing communication and evaluation strategies that incorporate social media.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Office of the Associate Director for Communication
Date: 7/2011

HIV Prevention Goes Social Toolkit
A manual describing best uses of social media in communicating HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and treatment information. Includes specific HIV/AIDS campaign and strategy examples and also offers practical metrics for tracking and evaluating interventions.
Organization(s): National Minority AIDS Council
Date: 8/2012

Social Media and HIV: A Systematic Review of Uses of Social Media in HIV Communication
Summary of the usage, benefits, and limitations of communicating HIV prevention and treatment information through social media. Includes data from thirty five published articles which used social media strategies to communicate information about HIV/AIDS to the public.
Author(s): Taggart, T., Grewe-M.E., & Roman Isler, M.
Citation: Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(11), e248
Date: 11/2015