Using Web-Based Outreach to Reach High-Risk Rural Populations

Content From: Elizabeth McKay, Prevention Coordinator, Positive Connections in Topeka, KSPublished: February 20, 20143 min read

positive connections logoEditor's Note: Today we share the fourth story from the new media planning projects supported by in summer 2013. To read earlier posts in this series, click here.We at Positive ConnectionsExit Disclaimer (Kansas’ oldest community-based HIV/AIDS organization) are working to improve the reach with our HIV related prevention and service messages.

Positive Connections serves an eleven-county region of Northeast Kansas, comprised of the capital city and seven thousand square miles of rural countryside. Following a reduction to only five staff from seven in 2013, Positive Connections was unequipped to physically bring HIV prevention education to the far reaches of its service area. We were also utterly unequipped to add a new media project, until we decided to marry the two ideas.

In our project, we developed a plan to bring prevention services to high-risk individuals throughout our entire service region without ever leaving the office. Using data previously collected from over 400 individuals tested for HIV in the last year, we identified the dating and engagement websites most popular with MSM, youth aged 15 to 25, and people of color in our area. We set a goal to connect with 50 individuals from rural Northeast Kansas using ten of these websites during the project period.

Building Our Strategy

Many of these popular sites already have guidelines in place for profiles. Once our strategy was developed, we spent a lot of time reaching out to site administrators, creating sex educator profiles to meet each site’s unique requirements, and immersing ourselves in each site’s culture. Our online outreach workers and volunteers learned to be adaptable in their approach. We learned that the type of HIV prevention message worked with one site’s audience could fall completely flat with another. Here are some resources that helped us in planning: AIDS Resource Center OhioExit Disclaimer and Ohio Department of Public Health's (ODH) Guidelines for Internet OutreachExit Disclaimer ; Zero Feet AwayExit Disclaimer ; and the National Minority AIDS Council 's (NMAC)Exit Disclaimer HIV Prevention Goes Social .

Our Results

By the end of this project, we had made one-on-one educational contact with 86 individuals online, 28 of whom belonged to our target region. 17 more were in Topeka. Many had no identifiable location in their profiles. Five contacts came in for HIV testing.

Moving Ahead

We will continue the program with our five most successful web profiles that allows us to provide clients with accurate sexual health information, answers to their questions about HIV/AIDS and STIS, and encouragement to access in-person services such as HIV testing. As we grow more comfortable with our new web environments, we expect that our focus and results will continue to improve.

If your organization uses the web to conduct prevention outreach, we would love to swap stories. Leave a comment about your successes or challenges below.