NACCHO Aboriginal sexual health: Spreading positive sexual health messages with Facebook


How Facebook is helping Aboriginal youth in NSW learn about sexual health and other matters relating to personal responsibility.

From Matthew Rodgers AH&MRC


Facebook is playing a key role in the AH&MRC’s It’s Your Choice, Have a Voice: Rights, Respect and Responsibility campaign and helping to empower young Aboriginal people to make informed choices about sexual health and related issues.

Over the course of 2011, the It’s Your Choice Have a Voice: Rights, Respect and Responsibility campaign was rolled out to 14 communities in NSW and reached some 4,000 young people aged 12-19 years. The campaign included hip-hop workshops, music workshops, salsa workshops and Deadly Styles dance performances. Events were hosted in partnership with Indigenous Hip-hop Projects (IHHP), local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) and Local Health Districts (LHDs).

Other key partners in rolling out the campaign were Aboriginal Sexual and Reproductive Health Workers and other Aboriginal Health Workers based in ACCHSs.

“At the start of the campaign we considered what would be the best way to involve young people in the program, because our focus was young Aboriginal people 12-19 years old,” says Dina Saulo, AH&MRC Project Officer, Sexual and Reproductive Health. “We decided we needed a Facebook page because that was where our target group was and determined that was the best way to interact with them.”

The AH&MRC provided pre-campaign workshops and support during the implementation phase of It’s Your Choice Have a Voice and also created and moderated social media over the course of the campaign’s roll-out to communities in NSW.

“It was six weeks in duration, with three days in each community and three workshops a day, so we were busy and on the road the whole time,” Saulo says. “While we were on the road working in one community, the social media aspect of the program was a great way to let people know where and when the next workshop was going to be.”

Saulo says social media was a natural fit for the campaign because the focus was on young people, who were eager to take photos and videos at the workshops they attended. “The reason why we have so much interaction with young people on our Facebook page is that we were encouraging them to join our network as we were doing the hip hop workshops with them,” she says.

“We’d say to the kids who attended, ‘Get on Facebook, tag yourself in photo and see the videos we’ve put up.’. We’ve generated a lot of content to put on there from the campaign, and that’s why so many young people visit the page.”

It also helps that Aboriginal people are well represented on social media sites, which many use to keep in touch with family and friends. “There are lots of Aboriginal people on Facebook in general, and from our target age group in particular,” Saulo says. “We found that a lot of people who weren’t participating in the campaign were liking our page and checking out our content because they had friends and family members who were taking part.”

Not surprisingly, the chief challenge the Sexual and Reproductive Health team faced with regard to Facebook was the time and resources required to manage everything, especially while on the move from town to town.

“The amount of time that social media took up was incredible, but it was one of the main drivers of the campaign and definitely a key reason why it was so successful,” Saulo says.

“Young people want their photos and videos instantly available to them – that’s what social media is about,” she says. “This generation wants things instantly so that’s what we do.

According to Saulo, a typical day on the It’s Your Choice, Have a Voice campaign went something like this: The team would host up to three workshops in the community and as soon as the they were finished, team members would upload about 10 photos from that day’s workshops and then catalogue the rest of the photos and videos into a specific area. Next, the team would provide updates about where the campaign would be in the following days. Lastly, team members would answer questions and respond to user comments.

“As soon as we were done, we would do it all again the next day,” Saulo says. “It was a full time job.”

As a result, Saulo says that when thinking about the allocation and funding and resources for campaigns there needs to be serious consideration given to how much time the social media side of things takes up.

“We didn’t realise just how much work it was going to be,” she says. “But we had to monitor the Facebook page constantly, because obviously young people were using it and interacting with us. We haven’t had any major issues with it so far, thankfully, but it is an ongoing process that requires constant attention.”

Due to the fact that the campaign was aimed at young people, a high level of vigilance was required to ensure only appropriate content was posted on the page and that all interactions were within acceptable boundaries.

“We put our profanity blocker up on high, so we never had any bad language on our wall,” Saulo says. “A lot of the young people also asked to add us as friends, but you have to have boundaries. Neither AH&MRC staff nor the dancers were allowed to add anyone from the workshops as friends.”

Saulo also claims that while privacy and appropriateness were concerns, when it comes to interacting with people on social media, consistency is the key to success. “Consistency is everything,” she says. “Be consistent in the amount you upload. Be consistent in the way you talk to people, so they feel like it is one person communicating with them rather than several different people.”

According to Saulo, young people actually noticed when different people were administrating the page, which necessitated the AH&MRC having to ensure a consistent tone was maintained in all interactions. “It’s all about knowing who your target audience is, which means working out what your online persona will be during the planning stages, before you go online,” Saulo says.

Similarly, the information the was fed back to the AH&MRC from Facebook’s usage statistics proved to be very useful, both for those running the workshop and the organisations which were the campaign’s funding partners.

“Age, geography, sex, these kind of statistics were very useful,” says Saulo. “The geographical information we received sorted data according to all the little communities we went to, so we could look at all the places we’d been and see how many people from those communities liked our page.”

The Facebook page was also a useful tool for enabling funding bodies track the progress of the campaign. “It was a good way of feeding back to our funders,” says Saulo. “It was good to be able to provide them with the numbers for things like YouTube views, SoundCloud listens and other information that proved how effective we’d been in reaching the youth in these particular communities.”

Clearly, Facebook helped the It’s Your Choice Have a Voice campaign to achieve all this and more. The program was evaluated in 2012 and judged to have met all key performance indicators, leading to it being refunded for another two years.

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