If there’s another key lesson to emerge from this project, it’s that working with social media and ICT requires careful planning at all stages. Certain platforms and technologies may be free and easily accessible, but this doesn’t mean that they should be adopted and used without appropriate consultation and consideration. In the Choosing the right media section of this website, we addressed certain elements that are worth taking into consideration prior to launching into a social media and ICT endeavour. These include taking the time to assess your own technological resources, needs and interests, as well as those of your intended audience.
This process does not end, however, once the social media and ICT project is up and running – using these tools effectively requires regular monitoring and measuring to ensure that you are indeed reaching your intended objectives.
Social media and ICT may constitute new platforms and technologies, but they speak to needs that have existed since the dawn of humanity – the need to communicate, to build community and to belong. The human dimension behind the social media and ICT platform or technology is an element that benefits from being kept front and centre in any related intervention, and this is probably one of the reasons why HIV Edmonton’s social media work has been so successful (see the case study). On social media and ICT, users may be interacting with you and each other anonymously and/or in ways that they might not outside of the digital domain, but their needs, wants and concerns remain the same. Moreover, just as your service users themselves are the ones who are best positioned to let you know what they need and want before you begin your project, so too can they provide valuable feedback as the project progresses.
When you are developing the infrastructure or content for your social media and ICT intervention, it is important to find ways to interest your users in the first place, and to keep them engaged. At this point, there is A LOT of competition when it comes to gaining attention on social media and ICT, and so remember that your tweet about using condoms is up against tweets about the Kardashian’s comings and goings, which feed into humans’ great curiosity about other people’s affairs. Certain strategies that can help keep your audience engaged include making your interventions interactive, encouraging users to participate, speaking your audience’s language and communicating with them directly, and using lots of visual components.
This is one of the key lessons that the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre learned as the organization was developing its YukonCondom Fairy campaign on Facebook (see the case study). Initially, they had planned on providing their audience with articles and textual information about HIV prevention. Along the way, they realized that their audience was responding much more strongly to the visual elements of the campaign. Through memes, a combination of image and text, they were able to find a happy medium that allowed them to maximize the reach of their campaign and its pertinence to its intended audience.
As fairly new tools, which have only infiltrated the domain of HIV work and public health over the last decade or so, much remains to be understood about the impact of social media and ICT in enhancing prevention, education, treatment and support. Consequently, how to measure the effectiveness of these interventions is also a murky area. That is not to say, however, that such interventions cannot and should not be measured. If anything, your own evaluation endeavours can contribute to building a larger body of knowledge on what it is, exactly, that social media and ICT interventions achieve in the context of HIV work, and how these achievements can be measured, shared and replicated.
When it comes to evaluating social media and ICT interventions, metrics are an important measure of activity and success. Metrics are the numbers and data that you amass about your work, which can help to measure a number of elements. These include the type of service being offered and the quantity of times you offer it (for example, how many tweets have you generated or shared on Twitter?); how the audience responds (for example, how many times was your message liked or retweeted?); and what happens in the long run (are you gaining or losing followers, are new people retweeting your tweets, do people only retweet once and stop, are people accessing your website from these tweets, etc?)
Outside of numbers and data, however, it is also important to gather feedback on how these social media and ICT interventions are being used beyond the screen. Though your followers are retweeting your HIV prevention messages, does this mean that they are actually reading them, and making changes in their sexual lives? How can you know that the app that you’ve developed to help people find a free testing clinic in their area has actually lead to an increase in HIV testing? How can you tell if sending someone a daily SMS medication reminder means that they’re taking their ARVs (more) regularly? This is where developing measures and evaluating outcomes becomes a bit trickier, albeit not impossible. From online polling to facilitated focus groups, to establishing partnerships with local clinics to measure how and where people are learning about their services, there are various ways that you can determine whether and how your social media and ICT work is paying off.