To quote the Beatles, “they say there’s gonna be a revolution”, when it comes to social media and HIV. Or maybe it’s already happened. Wikileaks, the Arab Spring (turning out to not be so Spring-like), and the various Occupy movements certainly demonstrate that social media, in which we group together things such as Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, and a number of lesser known platforms, are a powerfully disruptive tool in politics. Mind you I said disruptive. Whether they are positive is another issue. Certainly there is a great deal of power in this day and age’s modes of communication. Information can be communicated faster, disseminated nationally and internationally as fast as you can type “OMG”, and reproduces with astonishing rapidity. Community based organizations are now feeling the pressure to participate in the wild, wild west of social media in order to remain nimble, attuned to the communities they serve, and to capitalize on the resources that were once only available to those with massive advertising budgets. What does the brave new world of social media really signify for causes like the National AIDS Strategy?
Two sundays ago, I co-hosted the Latino Research Community Forum at the International AIDS Conference where as a group we simultaneously tweeted, micro-blogged, blogged, Instagramed, face-booked, and linkedIn about our experience. Always wanting to be more meta than meta, here I am blogging about blogging about the Latino Research Community Forum. We have clearly begun to adopt social media tools, but have we really figured out how to use them, or if they are indeed useful for us?
We are moving towards the goal of an AIDS-free generation where we are focusing on getting microbicides, PrEP , for example, out into the community. As I mentioned in my forum presentation, we need to work on availability, accessibility and acceptability as ways to get new interventions into the community. How does social media fall into this? If we tweet 100 tweets a minute do we create a tsunami in terms of changing community norms? Or does it just create white noise? Or do people just get sick of hearing us, and filter us off into junk mail. Social media makes it easy to communicate, but we often forget that it makes it even easier to tune us out. We need to consider effective evaluation of social media campaigns. Viral marketing in consumer goods relies on additional units sold and money made as a yardstick for success. Without concrete measures, how can we know if and when our social media efforts have any real impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS? As Bestselling author Seth Godin said “ “How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” But we have to add the warning to be careful, for as Internet entrepenuer Alex Tew said, “You are what you tweet”.