- How long has the AIDS.gov blog been around, and how has it evolved in that time?
Michelle: Well in the beginning the blog was about using new media in response to HIV. We launched it in January of 2008 and one of our first posts was about podcasts. What is a podcast? How do you create a podcast? And how can you use a podcast for the HIV community? A lot of that original material became content for our AIDS.gov website’s new media section.
We've long since expanded and now we cover HIV research, HIV policy, and other topics. For example, the White House released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy a couple of weeks ago and we've been writing quite a bit about that. Sometimes we also cover HIV and/or new media conferences we attend. We were at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, a couple of weeks ago and we wrote and recorded a lot of coverage of the events while we were there.
When we first started the blog, we spent a lot of time developing procedures and planning our strategy, what our criteria was, what our scheduling was, and what our review process was. Every Tuesday, since we launched in January of 2008, we've always had a new media post and that’s something we’re proud to have never missed. And again, we've expanded and grown as we've heard from our audiences and continued a dialogue about what's interesting to them and where we should broaden our efforts.
- From where do you draw your bloggers, and how do they individually affect the topics of discussion posted on the blog?
Michelle: Most of our bloggers and writers are internal staff on the AIDS.gov team. If you take a look at the blog we have Miguel Gomez, the director of AIDS.gov, he tends to blog quite a bit. Jennie is the communications director, I‘m the new media strategist, Deb LeBel helps to coordinate national HIV/AIDS awareness days (among other things), and other team members also contribute to the blog. For example, Deb helps with our blogs for World AIDS Day or for National HIV Testing Day. A lot of our research posts are now being authored by staff at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes for Health.
We go where there's a topic and we tend to feature other federal partners. Whether it's the CDC, or FDA, or NIH, or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or others.
Once in a while, depending on if it's a relevant topic and we really think having the voice of a community member would add to the discussion and the dialog, we'll invite that person to guest blog.
Jennie: I would also add cross-posting. While most of our posts are authored by AIDS.gov team members, or guest posts from federal or community partners, we’ve done more cross posting recently. For example, our colleagues at the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy have a blog and now any time they have a blog post, we will cross post that on our AIDS.gov blog. We’re doing a similar thing with our colleagues at the CDC with their Health Protection Perspectives blog. It's a small portion of the content for our blog, but it's a new way we've expanded what we're doing.
- What is usually included in your weekly new media posts and bi-weekly policy posts? What kinds of information do they provide to citizens?
Michelle: Sometimes it’s basic information on how-to-use new media tools. We really try to get the community perspective when relevant. And so if we're talking about using text messaging in response to HIV, or for an appointment or medication reminders, we talk to patients and providers and hear what they have to say. They're the ones implementing these programs and it’s helpful to hear what some of the challenges are along with the successes.
- In what way has your blog leveraged social media in responding to HIV/AIDS issues and distributing information to citizens?
Michelle: Our blog leverages new media by not only being a blog, but by giving us content to re purpose. For example, not only do we create our own content, but we follow other blogs, so that we can cross post with one another. We might cross post because we think the content's relevant and/or our HIV colleagues may ask us to cross post something. For example, the CDC is launching a new website about men who have sex with men and they reached out to us, to see if we would cross post or write a blog post about what they're doing. Social media is all about getting a little and giving a little. So it’s worked out well for us.
We also leverage new media with podcasts. So, for many of the blog posts, we turn them into an audio podcast. We have staff read them or sometimes include the voice of the person we're interviewing. We create video blog posts as well. That's usually to complement what the content is in the blog post, but sometimes they’re a post unto themselves.
A couple of weeks ago, when we were at the International AIDS Conference we used our blog to share news coming out at the conference--we would write an article about it. And then if there was a researcher there that we could talk to, we would sit down and talk to that person and record a video with them.
And then, we always post our blogs on Facebook with a link there, and invite comments and “likes” on our Facebook page. We Tweet every time that we post a new blog post, and so we invite traffic and discussion that way as well.
Jennie: We like to take one blog post, and all the research and writing that goes into that and re purpose it in whatever ways and formats possible, through different new media channels. We know we have different audiences in different places, for example, we have over 35,000 followers on Twitter, over 5,000 on Facebook. So we like to leverage the most appropriate tools available to bring content to our audiences in the spaces and formats they like.
- How do you work to promote the AIDS.gov blog both on and off-line?
Michelle: Like we mentioned before, we always post our blog entries on Facebook and Twitter. We also promote it in our email signatures. We also like to link to people in the posts which can sometimes help with promotion. When we're at conferences we do a lot of technical assistance, so we always try to direct people to our blog as another resource. For a while the blog itself was a toolkit about using new media, but we've moved that to our redesign AIDS.gov website. But, that was a way we drove some traffic –by providing some evergreen content, as well.
We also mix in timely, time sensitive content into our blog posts—which gives people another reason to follow our posts.
Basically we just try to promote it whenever we can, either, in discussions and dialogs, booths at a conference, or if we're giving a presentation or webinar, or when we're sending out e newsletters.
Jennie: We also have a lot of community partnerships and a lot of local and national partners. Through our conversations with our partners, regardless of whether it's through a conference, or training or some other presentation, it's just a chance to talk about the blog. The blog is one of the places we spend a lot of our time, on this project. Every week we have a new product, at least one, if not many. So, we like to weave the blog into everything we do.
- Do you foresee any trends or technology emerging over the next 5 years that will enhance the manner in which the US government personalizes communication with citizens?
Michelle: In terms of new technologies or advances and trends, we're beginning to really take our time to develop our strategy on using mobile technologies.
On National HIV Testing Day, which was June 27th, we launched this online HIV locator/mashup, which someone could put in their ZIP code and be connected to local HIV testing, treatment, housing, mental health and substance abuse services, in their area. Before the locator, the CDC had a database of where you can get an HIV test in your area based on your ZIP code.
Now we've added different layers using information from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and from SAMHSA about substance abuse and mental health resources. So, someone could put in their zip code and find out resources about housing, substance abuse, mental health resources and get an HIV test, amongst others.
Right now it is available online, so that's one example of how we might take that information onto a mobile platform. There are also other mobile technologies that we're exploring.
Another thing we may be exploring more, is how to use games and virtual worlds to respond to HIV. That's currently being done elsewhere, but we’re trying to figure out what AIDS.gov's role could be in that, if any.
I would say the primary new technology would be the mobile technologies, in general. Not that it's particularly new anymore, but it's new for us because, again, we're really thinking through our strategy moving forward. Planning is always important to us, especially in new media. Otherwise, you are just reacting and may lose sight of your goals and audiences.
- What else would you like to share with us about Blog.AIDS.Gov?
Michelle: It's been a great way to have a dialogue with folks, to hear what people want and are looking for. It's also been a really great opportunity to learn from people. We use and really rely heavily on the community for examples of how new media is being used in the community. It's been tremendous. We've developed a lot of partnerships and have learned that it's not just a community reading the blog, but it's a community of people that are a part of the blog. The lines blend and become one.
We've even made friends through the blog. I was in Vienna and there was this professor from North Carolina, David Wesner, that we blogged about because he was doing some really interesting things around HIV with his students at Davidson College. He was in Vienna as well, so we met for the first time. We've planned panels of people at conferences based on people that we've met through the blog that we've interviewed. I would say a lot of our activities revolve around the blog. As a writer, I think it's been very fulfilling. I think it's enhanced the projects and the relationships that we have.
Jennie: It's a chance for us to share what we've learned, but then also learn from our peers, and forge online relationships, which have turned into real life relationships and vice versa. It has been a really great platform for us. It is a space where we bring together voices and updates from across the larger AIDS.gov project. We've really enjoyed watching our readership grow over time and to see more repeat visitors and engagement.