Smartphones - A Smart Tool for HIV Communications

Content From: HIV.govPublished: November 13, 20183 min read


Photo of a man sitting outside looking at his phone.

At, we’re focused on the future of mobile and health communication - are you? Recent data from Pew Research Center showExit Disclaimer:

  • The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind.
  • Today just over 20% of American adults are "smartphone-only" internet users – meaning they own a smartphone, but do not have access to traditional home broadband service.

These data indicate that more users will become mobile-dependent and HIV service organizations should plan for "mobilification" to prepare for the increase in mobile visitors. In addition, it’s important to note that those populations most at risk for, or living with, HIV are also those who are often most likely to be smartphone-dependent.

According to Michael D. Shankle, M.P.H., Senior Director of Capacity Building at HealthHIV, “As more individuals have access to smart devices and mobile internet access, it is essential that public health practitioners stay abreast of the changing digital landscape and innovate practice with technology.”

Your Target Audience May be Smartphone-Dependent

According to PewExit Disclaimer, 83 percent of whites report owning a desktop or laptop computer, compared with 66 percent of African Americans and 60 percent of Hispanics. There are also substantial racial or ethnic differences in broadband adoption, with whites more likely than either African Americans or Hispanics to report having a broadband connection at home. An estimated 22 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of African Americans are “smartphone only” internet users, compared with 9 percent of whites who fall into this category.

In addition, African Americans and Hispanics are also more likely than whitesExit Disclaimer to rely on their smartphones for a number of activities, such as looking up health information or looking for work. Research by Tsetsi and RainsExit Disclaimer (2017) has reinforced the finding that minority group members, younger, lower-income, and less-educated users are more likely to be smartphone-dependent. They suggest that, even when these populations have internet access, their access often comes in the form of fewer and more limited devices, creating a “device divide.”

In addition, Tsetsi and Rains suggest smartphones may also be widening the digital divide because upper-income people have more devices (e.g., tablets and desktop/laptop computers) on which to access information, which also contributes to a wider knowledge gap.

This is important for HIV organizations to consider, because both the usage and knowledge gaps could be particularly detrimental for minority users who are living with, or at higher risk for, HIV infection.

Tips for Reaching Smartphone Users

In order to reach these populations, HIV service organizations should consider the following actions:

  • Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly.
  • Streamline information for easy reading on smartphones first.
  • Follow plain-language best practices to ensure information is easy to read.
  • Use photos and videos, on both your website and your social media channels, to convey complex information.
  • Engage more on social media, including:
    • Using mobile ads to drive your audience to your website
    • Using digital storytelling to make personal appeals

For more on how mobile is changing the landscape of digital media, check out our past blogs:

For help building your organization’s mobile strategy, make a free Virtual Office Hours appointment today.