The Prevention Collaborative was recently funded by the NLM/ACIOP to continue and expand the work of an existing initiative to create and market HIV educational online and print resources that feature information and links to NLM HIV/AIDS resources, using original, serialized stories on Instagram. We are creating two new stories featuring relatable characters based on the experience of community members to reduce HIV/AIDS stigma and increase awareness of different forms of HIV prevention such as PrEP and PEP.
In order to develop the stories and characters, we partnered with AIDS Center of Queens County (ACQC) in Queens, New York City and Pride for Youth in Bellmore, Long Island where we held focus groups and interviews with men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women. The key findings from this formative research include:
- Realistic information about dating, sex, and dealing with HIV-related stigma is necessary. When asked what couples might do to prevent HIV transmission, participants brought up using condoms, taking PrEP/PEP, counseling, talking with a healthcare provider, having less (rough) sex, and mutual masturbation. Monogamy was discussed, but there was disagreement as to whether or not this is realistic. Additionally, switching sexual positions and only having oral sex were seen as unrealistic.
- Social media is useful in providing information when it is quick and easy to navigate. Some participants use social media to find sexual health information but others had no experience. Instagram and Facebook were the most popular social media platforms used. Instagram was popular because it focuses mainly on pictures rather than text. Facebook was mostly used to stay in touch with friends and family.
- Content that mixes humor and drama was perceived as effective. Comic-book style art and images were well received. It was noted that adding descriptions and captions to social media posts that explain images and content would be helpful. Additionally, posting multiple story images in a day was suggested to help users stay engaged.
- Images need to be non-judgmental and culturally sensitive. Images that suggested that a person should stay monogamous or not have multiple partners were viewed negatively because they seemed to shame people for their decisions. Several transgender Latinx participants noted that they would not want to see transgender women displayed as overtly sexual and expressed that they would prefer that transgender characters dress more conservatively.
- Content should feature diverse characters with various experiences. Diversity in race, gender identity, religion, birthplace, sexual orientation (including those who are not out), relationship type (officially dating, friends with benefits, etc.). Featuring other life circumstances in stories including drug use, discrimination in the workplace and healthcare settings, sex work, and family involvement were also seen as important parts of participants’ experience.
The findings indicate that the most effective way to reach MSM and transgender women on social media is to use a popular, existing platform and to have content that is easy to follow and stay connected. Characters should be diverse in identity and experience, while stories should mix humor and drama while also being informative. Provided information should not be unrealistic or imply shame so that they do not turn people away from the content’s messages. Follow us on Instagram at @heads_or_tails_nyc to learn more!
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