As social media and ICT come to be recognized as powerful tools for public health interventions, funders are increasingly encouraging organizations and other stakeholders to implement related activities in their work, and to account for social media metrics and other data in the reporting of their successes. This being the case, the reality of funding hasn’t necessarily caught up with the rhetoric around social media and ICT, such that it can be quite difficult to secure funding to cover all aspects of this work, as it pertains both to the amount and the duration of the funding.
There are of course great variations to be found from one area of the world to another. Organizations from the Global South have been leaders when it comes to developing innovative and groundbreaking approaches to using social media and ICT in HIV work (as can be assessed when perusing the Resources section of this website). In addition to reflecting an openness to technology and to technological change on the ground, this pattern also stems from supportive funding structures and a development paradigm that has always situated technology as a key element in social development.
In Canada and other countries of the Global North, funders of health and social programs certainly acknowledge the potential of social media and ICT in HIV work, but it remains difficult for organizations to secure the monies to fully embrace related activities. Moreover, organizations and funders may not always understand the practical dimensions of social media and ICT work, and the nature of the funds required to make related interventions sustainable.
While there are considerable challenges and elements to take into account when it comes to funding for social media and ICT in HIV work, there are a number of strategies that can assist organizations in addressing these issues and in considering costs:
Similarly, while access to many social media platforms may be free, to be utilized successfully, they must be monitored and interacted with regularly, which requires continuous engagement on the part of staff. This too can represent a significant financial investment in the long term. Funds for advertising or to target messages to specific audiences (as in the case of “boosted” posts on Facebook) represent an additional expense, as can the generation of content to share on social media platforms (for example, one requires access to a camera to be able to participate on Instagram). When developing a social media or ICT intervention, it is therefore important to carefully plan the various elements related to the work, including expenses associated to platform or technology development as well as updates, costs related to promotion and advertising, and the time required for staff to carry out all of the activities needed to make this work a success.
It may also be worthwhile to offer training and opportunities for staff to develop their skills in social media and ICT. By understanding the platforms and technologies that are pertinent to your work, staff will be able to use them more effectively, while also being able to generate new ideas and to plan the many aspects required for their successful implementation. Organizing trainings and encouraging exploration of social media and ICT will also allow people to become more comfortable with the platforms and technologies, which is another key element in creating a supportive environment for social media and ICT. Encouraging “early adopters” within the organization to share their experiences and knowledge with their colleagues can also offer a useful strategy to increase in-house capacity.
Hackathons are a really neat idea when it comes to developing the technological aspects of a social media or ICT intervention. Held over an intensive few days, these events bring together technical and content experts who work together to develop ideas, platforms and technologies. There are already a few examples of Hackathons that have been organized around HIV, including the HIVdigital Hackathon held in Holland in August 2016, and Hack for Life, held in Brazil in March 2016.