Projects

FaceSpace: Using social networking to promote safer sex to higher risk groups


Young people and MSM are known to be at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections. Social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube have become very popular in recent years and offer a new environment in which individuals interact. The aim of this project was to examine whether these environments could be used successfully to deliver health promotion messages.

During 2009 and 2010, we implemented a novel health promotion intervention using social networking sites - “The FaceSpace Project”. This pilot intervention trialled the delivery of sexual health promotion via social networking sites to two key at-risk groups: young people aged 16-29 years, and men who have sex with men (MSM).

The project concept was to use fictional characters to interact and post content (primarily videos) on various social networking sites, with sexual health promotion messages embedded within some of these postings. The young people’s arm was developed and implemented first, with learning’s from this arm applied to the development of the MSM arm.

Aims:

The FaceSpace Project was a pilot project to explore the use of SNS for sexual health promotion. The specific aims of the project were to:

  1. To explore how and the extent to which SNS can reach young heterosexuals and MSM

  2. To explore how and the extent to which SNS can engage young heterosexuals and MSM

  3. To explore how and the extent to which SNS can increase sexual health knowledge and health-seeking behaviour among young heterosexuals and MSM

  4. To provide recommendations of appropriate frameworks for evaluating health promotion interventions delivered via SNS

Timeline

June 2009 – December 2010

Results

Youth Arm

At the end of the ‘live’ period, we had reached a total of 900 fans across the five Facebook pages. The majority of fans were female (59 percent), aged 18-34 (75 percent), and resided in metropolitan Melbourne (95 percent).

Key findings:
  • We were successful in reaching a sample of our target audience through this intervention
  • Fans were more likely to become fans of a character of the same gender
  • Fans reported positive feedback on the characters and narrative. Interactions with the pages included posts, comments and ‘likes’, and the highest level of interaction occurred in the early stages of the project
  • Interactions with fans primarily followed the uploading of videos, and peaked at 1,161 unique page views in a week (~early January) coinciding with Facebook advertisements for the baseline survey
  • There was a reduction in fan interactions with the project overtime
  • There were challenges in finding the balance between educational and entertaining content (some fans reported that the health promotion messages were unclear);
  • Over the period of the youth arm, we measured significant increases in sexual health knowledge between baseline and follow up surveys (23 percent vs 42 percent, p<0.01), however no changes in sexual risk behaviours (i.e. condom use) over time were measured
  • A small proportion (11 percent) of fans reported learning something new and nearly a third (28 percent) reported being reminded of something they already knew.

MSM Arm

At the end of the ‘live’ period, we had reached a total of 1,332 fans on the Facebook page, the majority of fans were male (81 percent), age ranged from 18-55+ years, and resided in Australia (85 percent), although we had fans in over 18 different countries.

Key findings:
  • We were successful in reaching a large sample of our target audience through this intervention
  • Fans reported positive feedback on the project, including finding it “interesting, informative, funny and relevant”
  • We were able to maintain interactions with fans overtime, however this was only true for a small proportion of our total fans
  • We struggled with maintaining engagement with all our fans over the entire length of the project
  • Videos were the key to engaging with fans, and we seemed to strike a closer balance between education and entertainment (successful ‘edutainment’)
  • Facebook ads were a very successful method in recruiting our target audience
  • Over the period of the MSM arm, we measured significant increases in sexual health knowledge between baseline and follow up surveys (58 percent vs 73 percent, p<0.01), however no changes in sexual risk behaviours (ie: condom use) or health seeking behaviours over time were measured
  • One third (33 percent) reported that the project caused them to discuss or seek more information about HIV/STIs, one in five (22 percent) reported the project made them more conscious about safe sex practices, one third (35 percent) reported the project lead them to seek advice from a health professional or a HIV/STI test. Nearly half (46 percent) reported their engagement in the project resulted in no change to their behaviour.

Outcomes

Since completing this pilot project, the MSM phase “Queer as F**K” has been moved to the Victorian Aids Council Gay Mens Health Council (VAC/GMHC), to continue as an innovative health promotion with a twist. Queer as Fxxk launches its fifth series on Facebook and YouTube in November 2011.

Publications

2011

Collaborators

This project is a collaboration between the Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute, the Department of Information Systems, University of Melbourne (http://www.dis.unimelb.edu.au/), Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Mens Health Centre (http://www.vicaids.asn.au/) and X:MACHINE Productions (http://www.xmachine.com.au/web/)

Funding

Victorian Department of Health

Contact Details

For any general enquiries relating to this project, please contact:

Doctor Alisa Pedrana

EC Partnership Coordinator, NHMRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Telephone

+61392822225

Email

alisa.pedrana@burnet.edu.au