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Health Communication and 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 reach people on a national scale as well as at local and regional levels. For example, a rural health department may disseminate messages about HIV prevention and the importance of testing using its website, as well as X accounts and a department Facebook page. Other dissemination vehicles that can be used for social marketing interventions include text messaging, blogs, and 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 #HIVBEATS Campaign by the Greater Than AIDS Organization and the #endHIV Campaign, led by the Abzyme Research Foundation (ARF) in collaboration with YouTube, launched a series of HIV prevention and education videos. The videos feature YouTube stars who are popular with LGBTQ+ 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 prevention 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 program also includes a text messaging service, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and X 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

HIV Prevention Goes Social: Using Social Media to Create, Connect, and Come Together
Toolkit with information and tools for sharing and messaging about HIV/AIDS prevention on social media with different audiences.
Organization(s): National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) and John Snow, Inc. (JSI)
Date: 2011

GYT: Get Yourself Tested
A national campaign offering information and materials targeted to young people advocating for awareness, prevention, testing, and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Let's Stop HIV Together
An online resource offering ready-to-post material for social media including toolkits on topics related to HIV/AIDS testing, prevention, treatment, and stigma.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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 published articles on using social media strategies to communicate information about HIV/AIDS to the public.
Author(s): Taggart, T., Grewe, M.E., Conserve, D.F., Gliwa, C., & Roman Isler, M.
Citation: Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(11), e248
Date: 11/2015

The Health Communicator's Social Media Toolkit
Presents guidelines 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 resources for developing communication and evaluation strategies that incorporate social media.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Date: 2010