For me, the main lesson is not to underestimate the importance and power of social media, especially when it comes to issues like stigma, discrimination and human rights where you need to engage broad groups of people in order to foster social change. I would encourage other networks and organisations who aren’t engaging in this space as much as they could to use social media to its full potential. It wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be, and it’s been hugely beneficial in terms of expanding our audience and allowing us to connect at a deeper level with various stakeholders.
Some of the other lessons and insights we’ve gleaned thus far include:
- Social media allows an organisation such as ours to connect with individuals who might otherwise be uncomfortable approaching an AIDS-service organisation or other HIV-related group. Because it affords anonymity for those who want it, social media presents a real opportunity in this regard. I think we’ve done a good job so far of reaching out to individuals who wouldn’t engage about HIV in a more public forum, and getting them information that they otherwise wouldn’t access.
- The social networking space provides a vehicle for new and dynamic collaborations. One thing we’ve found very effective is using social media to link up with other organisations around an event. For example, recently we worked with several organisations around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to push out coordinated messages and information. For the most part, these were organisations that we hadn’t engaged with before, so it was a real opportunity to extend our reach. It also allowed us to contribute to important conversations taking place around this event and make sure that the topic of HIV-related stigma and discrimination stayed in the forefront of people’s minds.
- By using social media, we’ve been able to celebrate members of the community, recognise their contributions to addressing stigma, and share their stories in order to inspire others. That’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of maximising use of social media – it gives us an opportunity to amplify the voice of the stigma warriors out there and to applaud and share their daily victories. We’re all in this together and social media allows us to celebrate that and to coordinate our efforts in a dynamic and meaningful way.