Developing a Comprehensive Digital Communications Strategy for Washington, DC’s African American Women

Content From: Cathleen Maine, Director of Development, The Women’s CollectivePublished: June 03, 20143 min read


Today we share the seventh story from the new media planning projects funded in summer 2013. To read earlier posts in this series, click here: is a community health and human service agency in Washington, D.C., providing direct services and advocacy for the health and human rights of girls and women affected by HIV/AIDS. Like many small nonprofits serving low-income communities and women of color, we experience daily challenges in our efforts to reach current and potential clients using digital communications. Timely and effective communication enables women and girls to access and benefit from health services and information.

TWC planned our new media project to assess and improve our externally focused digital communications strategy. We produced our Digital Communications Plan 2013 – 2014Exit Disclaimer – our blueprint for a comprehensive approach to educating multiple audiences, generating a two-way exchange of health information, and creating a dialogue with partners and stakeholders about the common challenges in reaching those we serve.

One of the challenges we wanted to address are disparities in technology access and usage in minority populations. According to the Pew Internet and American Life ProjectExit Disclaimer a “black/white ‘digital divide’ continues to persist, but is not consistent across technology platforms or demographic groups.” To explore this, TWC met with a client group of low-income African American women, ages 22-55, to understand how they utilize technology platforms, access information online, and how/if social media tools can improve their access to and knowledge of reliable health information and resources.

From the discussion, we identified these factors that informed our communications plan: (1) there is a sharp disparity of Internet skills, access, and technology use (2) a curiosity about the Internet and having an email address exists among low level users, (3) a relative comfort in accessing social media sites and websites exists, and (3) most of these women get their health information from their doctor (58%), basic Internet searches (41%) and websites (50%). These women did not utilize social media in order to access health information but stated an interest in doing so.

Many of these women, particularly older, and low-income African American, continue to rely on older technologies. We learned that this must be factored into our communications strategy but should also be brought to bear in policy arenas where often universal access to the Internet and technology is assumed and highly influences communications strategies. We now know it will be important to continue to push health information and notifications to women using feature phones (without smart phone capabilities) and to maintain our website.

This work has enabled us to better envision our role in making health information easily available to marginalized women and girls in D.C. Our blueprintExit Disclaimer will guide us to more effectively and strategically utilize social media to inspire and engage in direct conversations between multiple audiences and stakeholders i.e. women and girls, CBOs, care-providers, policy-makers, and advocates.

How does your agency communicate with women and girls about HIV?