The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Social Media Update reported that 81% of all American adults ages 18+ are Internet users, of which 52% of online adults use two or more social media sites. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest saw significant growth between 2013 and 2014. Instagram saw significant growth in almost every demographic group. 71% of online adults use Facebook. Among those who use Facebook, 67% are Black, Non-Hispanic and 73% are Hispanic. These data emphasize the need to leverage social media tools to advance targeted health education. Social media presents a vital opportunity for organizations to share health information. But effective use of social media is not always easily understood by personnel within health programs with limited resources including training capacity.
As a program of the US Department of Health and Human Services, AIDS.gov works to extend the reach of HIV programs to communities at greatest risk by increasing the use of new media tools by government, minority, and community partners. To meet the need for improved social media practice for HIV and health outreach, AIDS.gov provides comprehensive social media technical assistance and has provided in-person assistance at conference venues.
To extend this service to health program staff who are not able to attend conferences, we launched “Virtual Office Hours” (VOH): bi-weekly phone sessions with social media experts to offer free technical assistance to staff and volunteers within HIV programs and other stakeholders.
Virtual Office Hours is a remote teaching platform to help HIV programs improve their personnel’s capacities to implement digital communication. The process allows participants to register online for an individual training session during stipulated bi-weekly training hours, receive a one-on-one phone-based session focused around their individual social media queries, and return to receive more assistance. This ongoing nature of the Virtual Office Hours service allows program staff continuous support as they develop and implement their social media strategy.
Evaluation Methods and Results:
Through VOH, AIDS.gov has identified and responded to a high demand for free, social media assistance and the opportunity to sustainably fill that need. Since launch in December 2014, Virtual Office Hours has received positive feedback from over 40 participating HIV programs from all over the country. This service has received high participation rates, with each time slot consistently booked. Participant feedback received suggests high demand for this type of service to bolster staff capacity to communicate about health information.
Virtual Office Hours responds to and increases the use of new media tools by staff in HIV programs who received personalized technical assistance. VOH is a tailored way to inform health communication practice at the program level. The evolution of digital communication tools and their integration into health communication practice suggest continuing need for staff education.
Implications for research and/or practice:
Virtual Office Hours is a model approach that improves the practice of health communicators who use social media to extend the reach of their HIV communication. VOH is a blueprint adaptable to offer social media assistance across a variety of health communication topics.