Twitter town hall helps to promote HIV Testing Day

CDC division shows how to optimize your reach with an interactive event.

CDC division shows how to optimize your reach with an interactive event

The traditional town hall meeting has gone high tech, with participants sounding off in 140-character bursts.

To prepare for National HIV Testing Day on June 27, the National Prevention Information Network, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, recently hosted a 90-minute Twitter town hall event. The result was a give-and-take with a potential audience of 80,000-plus followers.

How do you measure the reach?

The town hall reached an estimated 80,000+ people. Below are the organizations that participated and their follower totals:

@healthfinder: 37,799 followers
@AIDSgov: 25,332 followers
@SIENewark: 5,990 followers
@cressycat: 5,106 followers
@socialbttrfly: 3,764 followers
@NMACCommunity: 2,196 followers
@RedPumpProj: 1,833 followers
@HelpEndHIV: 1,386 followers
@AZDHS: 1,267 followers

The organization was joined by the National Association of People with AIDS and by, a division of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

The purpose was to share NPIN’s best practices with HIV/AIDS prevention partners and talk about how social media could bring awareness to the national day of HIV screening. Organizers designated a special hashtag, #NHTD, so that participants and interested onlookers could search for and track relevant tweets.

Melissa Beaupierre, senior director of NPIN, moderated the event, assisted by eight colleagues nationwide. Before the event started, each person was assigned a task: responding to tweets, sending out different messages through the Twitter account of, or fielding questions from participants, among other duties.

The 90-minute town hall focused on these three topics:

  • Importance of HIV testing. “We felt it was critical for prevention providers to hear from the CDC on why testing is still so important,” Beaupierre says.
  • Ideas from past testing-day activities. “We wanted to share lessons from those who have done events and share successes, so others would consider replicating them as appropriate for their communities,” Beaupierre says.
  • Using new media to promote testing day. “A lot of local prevention providers are struggling with very limited financial resources and a lot can be done with new media on a very tight budget,” Beaupierre says.

NPIN had been on Twitter for a year and previously used Twitter to give updates from conferences and sessions, but this was its first-ever town hall event. Because a lot of prevention providers are active on Twitter, the town hall gave NPIN a new way to reach a large audience.

“We thought this would be an innovative way to communicate messages around HIV testing,” says F.E. Harrison, NPIN project manager. “We thought this was a great way to get information out there.”

NPIN didn’t spend any money on hosting the town hall. To advertise it, Twitter widgets were displayed on the NPIN website, and e-mail blasts were sent to the CDC asking it to help get the word out.

Planning started in March. “We had big questions,” Beaupierre says. “Who are we going to partner up with? What are the topics going to be? Is there any new information out there, related to testing? We wanted to keep people engaged.”

Even with all the preparation, Beaupierre was worried that during the town hall event, someone would tweet the wrong message.

“We also tried to make it clear that we were prevention partners and couldn’t answer any personal health questions,” Beaupierre says. “But we did have tweets for that prepared, just in case.”

She says the June 3 town hall was a success. More than 140 organizations were actively tweeting and retweeting NPIN information. Beaupierre says she saw high levels of participation from exactly the types of organizations it was aiming to reach.

“We were looking for prevention partners of the CDC, community-based organizations, service organizations, nonprofit groups, AIDS prevention groups and people who wanted to plan a testing event,” Beaupierre says.

Buzz about the event continued after the town hall was over and even the following day; people said on Twitter they were sorry they’d missed it, Beaupierre says.

Here’s a sampling of what was said during the town hall:

@keligoff We’ll def let you know of future Town Hall plans. Based on response, hope we’ll be doing more!

National HIV Testing Day is June 27. Take the Test. Take Control. #NHTD

To our participants, what successful events or programs have you implemented for NHTD? #NHTD

Beaupierre says NPIN will plan another such event. “We consider it as a great success and are already discussing possible topics with the CDC for future town halls,” Beaupierre says.

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