Imagine walking into a popular neighborhood bar in Phoenix, Arizona, seeing people gathered around game boards on high-top tables with piles of pinto beans, beers, tacos, margaritas and more. Two drag entertainers host from a stage, calling out brightly-colored cards that appear electronically on large televisions throughout the bar. People can be heard shouting “¡LOTERÍA!”, followed by loud, celebratory songs that you can’t resist dancing and clapping along with. Today is March 31, 2020 – and it’s amazing that only a few weeks ago, that was our normal, and the heart of our project, entitled, Lotería.
Fast forward to today, where Corona isn’t just the name of a beer on the menu during RipplePHX’s Thursday Lotería Nights. But instead, Corona[virus] is what caused us to reshape that entire experience into a socially-distant, at-home version appropriate for the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 – in a matter of days. And so far, it’s working.
An Overview: RipplePHX’s Lotería Project
Lotería (often referred to as “Mexican Bingo”) is a game similar to bingo, but instead of numbers, brightly-colored cards are randomly drawn and called by a host. Players traditionally use dried beans to mark their game boards. RipplePHX, a back-to-grassroots HIV outreach nonprofit, set out to leverage the love for this traditional game – along with key social influencers – to bring education to our Latinx friends who are the most disproportionately affected by HIV in the Greater Phoenix Area.
A team of 8 Key Latinx Community Influencers were chosen to form RipplePHX’s new Lotería Team who would host weekly Lotería Events as the heart of the project, while delivering a high-impact, highly visual, social media campaign at the same time to educate and provide National Library of Medicine (NLM) resources related to HIV for their community.
Building the Team
When the idea for our Lotería project was born, we pulled together 3 volunteers of our organization who were also drag entertainers to solicit their input and feedback to help build the program. We wanted this project to be created and driven by a group of people from the community who were respected and well-known with large social media followings to build an authentic voice for the project. We knew that their voices would have more influence than ours ever could in the community, so we really wanted to empower members of our community to drive this in order to have the opportunity to reach as many people as possible.
Ultimately, the 3 original volunteers were asked to join the project after it was funded in January, who then nominated and voted for an additional 4 people to add to the project. One of RipplePHX’s staff members, AJ, would also join the project as the HIV liaison between the team and RipplePHX to ensure the team would always have access to an HIV knowledge expert and resource.
A grand total of 8 key influencers were brought on as contractors to act as the face of this project. The team is primarily comprised of drag queens and male entertainers; including the current Miss Latinx Pride, a former Mr Phoenix Pride, Miss Sonoran Pride, someone from our sister-city, Tucson, and some newcomers to build growth opportunities for some of our community’s entertainers.
Selecting NLM Articles and Photo Shoots
The Lotería Team is truly the “secret sauce” for this project. With their existing influence in the community, building a platform for them to educate our community about HIV brings incredible credibility and an existing audience to receive the message. We wanted them to be the stars of this project and give them every available opportunity to shine and use their authentic voices. So, we contracted Scotty Kirby as our photographer for the project. A Phoenix local, Scotty is known nationally for photographing many RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants. Scotty would provide us with incredibly eye-catching images and would add another layer of credibility to the project in the community.
In preparation of the photoshoot, we provide the team members a broad topic that we want to focus on for the upcoming month (HIV 101, Condoms, PrEP, Testing, etc). From there, each Team Member visits NLM resources to research and select a single article that they feel confident talking about for the month with their community.
Then, they put together a meme that is a single quote from them about how THEY would introduce the article to THEIR friends. For instance, instead of “Learn how to use condoms”, Team Member, Karloz’s meme was “Get ready to ride”. He’s part of the cowboy culture in Phoenix, so this message resonates so much stronger coming from him to his community than a more generic, clinical message.
Additionally, the Team tells us the one thing from the article they really want to make sure their community knows. Even if people don’t click through to read the article, they at least want people to know this one certain, important thing. We call this their “Fact Bit” for the month.
From there, they attend a Photo Shoot with Scotty Kirby to photograph their look for the month based around their meme and fact bit. The photos are then paired with their messages, and the visual magic for this project is born! These brightly-colored images pair beautifully with the Lotería game itself and stand out in social media news feeds.
Web and Marketing Materials
RipplePHX created a page for each Team Member to serve as a collection of articles that each person wanted to share with their community. We add the article to our website with a link to the original and the articles are checked back to the source each month to monitor for updates. We did this because this program is built around the influence of each Team Member. So, if you trust Aubrey, for example, to talk to you about PrEP, we also wanted them to trust Aubrey around her other months’ topics as well to expand their knowledge while maintaining that rapport with Aubrey.
The Team’s memes and fact bits are then paired with their photos to create personalized marketing materials for each Team Member for print and social media. Each material contains a QR Code and a Short URL to drive people to “learn more” by visiting their bank of articles online.
Memes and fact bits are printed and inserted into existing Safer Sex Kits our outreach team distributes in bars and nightclubs. Each Team Member is also given a supply of Safer Sex Kits to hand out on their own throughout the month to promote the project they’re a part of.
The memes and fact bits are also provided to the Team Members Electronically, where they post about their articles every week and encourage people to click through to the website to learn more information. The success of this approach has been incredible….and exponential.
The Game: Pre-Coronavirus
Finally, to keep the project highly visible both online and in-person, each week, 2 of the Team Members came together (pre-coronavirus) to host a night of Lotería games, prizes and entertainment for the community.
These were held in a popular, centrally-located, neighborhood bar named Stacy’s @ Melrose. Ironically now in the face of coronavirus, we wanted a way for people to come together to celebrate the project together, make sure we could answer questions about information access in-person, provide access to additional resources like HIV Testing, and come together as a community around drinks, food, games and fun!
Upon entry, patrons were greeted by smiling and friendly RipplePHX staff members and volunteers. Two tablets were available for each person to register to play so we could track attendance and also gather email addresses to send people reminders and links to articles to click on throughout the year. Each person was then given a bag that contained a game board, beans, a peel-and-reveal wild card, and a safer sex kit.
Five rounds of Lotería would be played with breaks in-between to feature local performers and other entertainment. Additionally, between games, the hosts talked about their month’s articles with the audience and would encourage people to pull out their safer sex kit and follow the link to learn more from their page on our website. A laptop was used to project the cards that were being called to all televisions in the bar and on the patio.
Additionally, the last round of Lotería would be a “Wild Card” round. Patrons would open a specially made peel-and-reveal card that would have a “bonus” wild card for them to mark on their board for free, and also contained a QR Code. The hosts would then encourage people to scan their Wild Cards with their phones and we even created an instructional video that played on the large television screens to show how to scan QR codes from most phones.
When scanned, 2 of the Wild Cards in that night’s lot would take people to a winning page where they would win an instant prize*. This was our project’s “big moment” and the incentive to get an entire bar to scan QR codes – all at once. All of the remaining QR codes would take patrons to the Lotería Team Member’s Web Page with their monthly articles. We used the 2 registration tablets to assist anyone who had trouble scanning the codes from their phones.
The Wild Card Round opened the door for the hosts to talk about the articles people are seeing on their phones during peak attendance. They would also walk around to encourage people to click around on their page and other Team Members’ pages to view even more articles. This is how we were able to get patrons to demonstrate their own ability to access this information online. And the boards, wild cards, and safer sex kits in their bags all contained the QR codes so they could get more information anytime they’d like.
*A note: The NLM grant will not pay for prizes – although essential for a project like this. Therefore, our team is additionally tasked with finding 7 donated prizes from local businesses for each week’s game.
The Game: Post-Coronavirus
When Coronavirus struck, we knew that our social media campaign would be able to continue on, but a key piece of our project – bringing people together – would be at risk. While our home bar was still open, and the gravity of the virus was still so uncertain, we continued on with the event – disinfecting all the tables, chairs, lamps, and tablets. However, within a week, Phoenix issued a shut-down order for all bars and restaurants, and we lost our home bar.
We talked with the Loteria Team, and they were all game to continue the project, so we moved forward to adapt the experience in the bar to bring Lotería to the Facebook Live platform. This meant creating a way for people to register to play online so we could continue to track attendance, assigning unique game boards for people to download and print, re-vamping marketing materials, figuring out how to encourage people to click on the Team’s NLM articles, and turning our office into a socially-distant studio.
Surprisingly, the most difficult challenge we would face would be finding a webcam to use. With Amazon Prime’s product availability and ship times severely impacted – even at the beginning of the virus – we were unable to find a webcam online that would be delivered in time for the following week’s game night. And it turns out, web cams were the business equivalent to toilet paper as so many people made the move to work from home. After calling over 20 different stores, we finally found a single $29.99 webcam available at a store just outside the city, and were able to talk the manager into allowing it to purchase it over the phone and pick it up.
Working day and night for several days, and without missing a beat, we transitioned to a weekly, online Lotería broadcast quickly, and surprisingly successfully. Upon writing this blog, we have conducted 2 online, live Lotería broadcasts, and the first week, we saw an increase of 20 attendees than we were seeing in the bar, and an increase of 40 attendees the second week with almost 100 people tuning in.
Two team members still co-host the event. They arrive at our office dressed and ready. The door is open so they don’t touch a door, and the hosts and two staff members all remain at least 6’ to 10’ apart throughout the broadcast. Everyone disinfects their areas before and after the broadcast. And a second cleaning is done by the Executive Director. They continue to talk about their monthly articles and encourage people to click-through. Anecdotally, people have shared the broadcast and said it was the most fun, and educational online broadcast they’ve seen post-coronavirus.
While attendance is up, without the Wild Card Round at the in-person events, click-throughs to the website have seen a slight decline. Given the circumstances, we anticipated this, but were happy to see overall click-throughs actually increased over February due to more click-throughs on the Team’s Social Media posts.
Prizes, again, are not funded by the project, and mailing them out isn’t either. However, we were able to leverage one of our other grants to cover mailings if we offered at-home HIV Test Kits to viewers. Now, at registration, viewers are able to select if they’d like to receive an at-home test kit, and they’re mailed out every Friday along with Lotería prizes! In the first week, 24 people opted to receive at-home test kits because of our ability to leverage the two grants together to provide additional offerings and resolve funding issues around mailing costs.
All-in-all, we’re seeing an increase in attendance – especially with people in rural areas and even out-of-state viewers! In addition to the increase in players, over 1,000 people viewed each broadcast – further broadening the program’s message reach.
To add, we’re prepared with an additional plan and have the entire team ready to host remotely if the city goes on full lockdown for us to be able to patch them in remotely. Hopefully, we won’t need to discuss that in the Q2 blog update.
Monitoring & Evaluation
We use a variety of methods to monitor the progress of this progress. Attendees (in-person and online) are counted using actual registration sign-ups. Click-throughs are monitored through monthly subscriptions to QR Code and Short Link URL applications. Social Media Posts are manually monitored by visiting the Team Members’ Facebook and Instagram Accounts where engagements are documented 7 days after the post was made. Posting to “Stories” are not included in these metrics because of their nature. All metrics are publicly available on our website to be transparent with our community, and can be found by clicking here: https://www.ripplephx.org/?page_id=12709
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