Are Your Digital Communications Strategies Building Bridges or Obsolete?

Content From: HIV.govPublished: July 19, 20185 min read


A woman looks down on her cell phone.

The 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) starts Sunday, July 23, 2018. The AIDS 2018 theme, "Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges," encourages those in the HIV community to think differently about our work, including how we use social media and other digital tools to extend the reach and impact of our programs. 

We encourage you to follow our updates from the conference, while also taking the time to reflect on how well you are using social media and digital tools.

At this point in the digital revolution, it's time for those of us in the HIV community to reconsider how we are keeping pace with the rapid and never-ending evolution in the way our colleagues, clients, and audiences consume and use information.

"Keeping up to date with the ever-changing face of social media is vital. It used to be that an organization could cross-post a story on Facebook and reach thousands of people with it. Those days are over."

— Chip Lewis, Communications Director, National Minority AIDS Coalition

"The digital landscape is changing constantly. That's why it's essential to stay on top of trends, analyze your own data, and be adaptable with your digital strategy. That way you can best meet the needs of your audiences and ensure you're delivering the most engaging and up-to-date content when and where people want it."

— Jennie Anderson, Associate Director, Health Communication and Media Partnerships, Kaiser Family Foundation


Are We Running Ahead or Running in Place?

The rapid change in communication technology brings new challenges and opportunities, but often many of us in the HIV community are lagging behind.

In's 12 years of providing digital technical assistance, we've learned that many organizations serving those at risk for or living with HIV are not always effectively reaching or expanding their target audience.

If you're not applying new technologies that are available, you may be missing opportunities to target, tailor, and customize—all proven strategies to increase message effectiveness and behavior change.

Once you establish your social media presence, you may stick to the communication script you know, but today's tools provide the opportunity to ask your audiences what they want, or analyze your metrics to see what is effective. Never before has communication technology offered this range of tools that allow you to reach those you serve and influence people's health behaviors.

No matter who you're trying to reach, new technologies often make it possible to communicate more effectively with less infrastructure and deliver your messages to audiences from rural to urban areas. If you're not using the newest tools, we ask you to assess your current use,  and ask your audience what tools they are using—get started now!

"Many of our clients are using technology in innovative ways. Whether they will be riding in a driverless car or streaming a video of one while walking down a dirt track, the digital revolution is changing how we all think about the world around us. In HIV, we need to think about how our content will be discoverable and usable in this new world."

— Miguel Gomez via Twitter, Director – Washington, DC

"Thanks to dramatic improvements in both prevention and treatment, people have more options to stay HIV-free and those with HIV who stay on their medications can have the same lifespan as those without. But, we must use the current and emerging tools available to manage into the future."

— Melissa Beaupierre, Founder,


Reaching and Engaging Audiences

Many of us in the HIV community can move beyond selecting channels that require little two-way communication or engagement just because those channels are easy to manage. Actively listening to and engaging with your audience will help you deliver the information they need and increase your impact on the epidemic. These tips may help:

  • Step into your audience's shoes to truly understand their needs. Do you know which channels to use to reach each of your audiences and if those channels are appropriate for your organization? What can you learn by actively listening to those channels to understand the online community and track what's trending so you can find and take advantage of entry points for HIV messaging? Are you meeting your audience where they are (in terms of technology capacity) to ensure that your messages reach those who may benefit the most?
  • Know how social media and digital tools support your mission. How do your communications goals align with the mission of your organization? Are the communication tools you're using helping you achieve those goals, and how are you measuring their impact? If you want to be able to explain the return on investment for social media activities, you have to be able to connect those dots.
  • Make staying informed about digital and social media a priority. None of us has the luxury of spending time and energy on outdated tactics. By having a dedicated process for tracking the current state of communication technology, you can make better decisions about how and where to spend your resources. It's also important to translate your current understanding of technology into new project plans and communication strategies each year.
  • Budget for security and privacy measures (it's everyone's job now). Staying on top of how and where you interact with your audience is a critical part of maintaining security and meeting their expectations of privacy. These new duties come with associated costs—like software, applications, and training—so set aside funding when planning your annual budgets.
  • Listen to the online community. Those of us in the HIV community have important information to share, but, too often, we may talk first and move to our next task before listening to the response. Our online audiences want to engage with committed partners: try listening first and talking only when helpful and relevant.

Before, During, and After AIDS 2018

  • Listen and learn from what others have done. Use the information gained to assess, elevate, expand, and enhance your own communications. Follow similar organizations on social media and learn from their successes and challenges.
  • Look for ways to work collaboratively across the HIV community. Seek ways to amplify each other's messages and extend your overall reach and impact.
  • Put your clients' and audience's information needs first. Apply the technologies that best meet your audience's needs.