How social media strategy can help plan, run and evaluate health promotion

How social media strategy can help plan, run and evaluate health promotion

HIV Australia | Vol. 10 No. 1 | June 2012

This article by Lyndal Cairns details the way social media is used at Healthy Communities in Queensland and the importance of strategy in reaching our goals of HIV prevention.

Getting the strategy right

We have found that social media policy, strategy and planning are vital to the success of our projects. Long before the condom reinforcement campaign Rip and Roll was relaunched in late May 2011, Healthy Communities had a plan for social media and had
established a Facebook page, Twitter account and content strategy1.
This meant that when the campaign’s poster of a male couple holding a condom was pulled from bus shelters, we were well placed to capitalise on the groundswell of public support through Facebook and Twitter. An event was set up immediately after the ad
was removed and it gained 1,000 ‘attendees’ (supporters) in four hours, 35,000 supporters in a day and 91,000 to date.2 Mainstream and international media coverage
3 followed and the Rip and Roll campaign poster was soon reinstated. Because we had done the groundwork and set up accounts beforehand, we were able to capitalise on the support immediately and transfer it into permanent engagement with
our health workers through the Facebook and Twitter accounts. In addition, the increased interest in the campaign and in Healthy Communities as an organisation has increased discussion about HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Queensland.

Evaluation through social media

A survey of the target population conducted after the Rip and Roll campaign showed the worth of the campaign and demonstrated its message was being received.4 Some 93.7% of respondents recognised the campaign was about condom reinforcement; and 80% reported that condom use was very important to them. In addition, nearly 70% said HIV and STI prevention was a goal for the campaign and they also said it was
very important to them (HIV prevention 95.3%; STI prevention 90.6%).

Lessons learnt

The sheer speed of the social media response was challenging for Healthy Communities as we tried to manage traditional and new media demands, and capitalise on the small window of opportunity for our messages that big media coverage afforded us.
5 We tried to focus on updates and what our community really needed to know and put the best of the rest in links. It also taught us the importance of partnerships with organisations and people who have large social media followings (influencers),
and getting access and administrative rights to growing communities online. Learning from our community Healthy Communities workers have an increased capacity to tap into the knowledge held in the community. This is especially true of the Sexually
Adventurous Men project (SAMs), which was set up in response to the over-representation in HIV notifications of men engaged in esoteric sex. Research was conducted with Queensland men through social media sites serving SAMs6 and at parties and beats. The research showed a skills deficit in the community and a need for appropriate peer education. Based on the research, Healthy Community’s SAM project worker Deeje Hancock created a secret space
for like-minded men to discuss and educate each other about esoteric sex best practice and risk reduction. The intervention has been extremely successful, with scene elders identified and supported to give good quality information to at-risk people
new to the scene.7 Information from the SAMs community has also informed the SAMs section of the website, which will be launched later this year.

Organisational change as an adjunct

Our social media successes are also changing the way we work day-to-day. The ease and strength of our social media networks – especially Facebook – means staff can promote their activities more effectively. In crafting a social media strategy, health
workers must consider their objectives and create targets, working more ahead of time and in a more coordinated way than previously. And the ease with which social media offers analytics means they evaluate their projects more effectively.

Identifying impediments to open communication

A survey of Healthy Communities staff’s social media use, skills and attitudes, conducted in March, found health workers relied heavily on networks to promote events, build community and talk about sexual health.8 Half the sexual health program staff reported that gay hookup phone app Grindr was very useful. However, only 37% said they were very successful in talking about health online. Delving into why, a full two thirds said they
struggled to find at-risk people and engage them appropriately online; and a further quarter said they were afraid of being misunderstood. This honest response from staff means we are able to identify skills deficits and target training. As a result,
Healthy Communities is developing a digital flowchart of sexual health questions which will guide health workers and give them confidence.

Keeping track of our work

At Healthy Communities, plans are written for every social media campaign. These include the rationale for our work, the tactics we plan to use, suggested content and an evaluation framework so we know whether we are meeting our targets.9 The wealth of data available in social networks allows health workers to evaluate sexual health conversation better. Instead of stopping to think after a phone or live conversation and evaluating whether the client has understood them, it is often set out in front of them in the conversation. They can see their client’s response, and for the most part have continued contact with them. Going forward, Healthy Communities plans to further diversify its social media networks (including a niche community for clinicians) and has built social elements into its websites, which will be relaunched in the middle of the year. Staff will be trained in online health promotion, social media analytics and developing ‘viral’, or shareable, content – especially video.


Help save Healthy Communities

Soon after Healthy Communities submitted this article, the Queensland Government announced its intention to completely defund the organisation, redirecting funds to an as yet unformed new Ministerial advisory committee. This decision will effectively
terminate all HIV prevention programs the organisation operates across Queensland. Healthy Communities has developed a series of strategies, including the use of social media, to raise awareness about the decision. A Facebook event was set up
by Lyndal Cairns immediately following the announcement, and two public protests have already been staged, with more action to follow.

What you can do:

See also The Resolution on the breakdown of the Queensland HIV Partnership Response unanimously passed by delegates at the AFAO National
Gay Men’s HIV Health Promotion Conference Links to commentary in the blogosphere at the AFAO blog


1 Lewis, C., Junior (2011). Rip and Roll phase II campaign plan. Healthy Communities, Queensland.

2 James, M. (2011). Homophobia – NOT HERE – Adshel Caves to Homophobic Pressure Facebook event.

3 The Rip and Roll story YouTube playlist. Retrieved from:

4 Cairns, L. (2011, 2012). Rip and Roll Engagement Survey. Healthy Communities, Queensland.

5 Norton, G., Cairns, L. (2011). rip&rolled – How Social Media Beat Homophobia and Solidified a Community. Retrieved from:

6 Hancock, D. (2011). Sexually Adventurous Men Behaviours Skills and Knowledge in Queensland.

7 Cairns, L. Hancock, D. (2012). Sexually Adventurous Men Project Secret Group Evaluation Framework.

8 Cairns, L. (2012). Social Media Skills Assessment Survey, Sexual Health Team.

9 Healthy Communities Social Media Policy.

Lyndal Cairns is social media coordinator for Healthy Communities.