What I learned from my Most Challenging Social Media Campaign

By Colleen McCarthy / 16 Jan 2017


I love my job, but sometimes it feels hard to believe that I get to play around on Facebook and Instagram all day for my career. 

Okay, “play around” isn’t the right phrase. I’ve been on social media since the MySpace days and I’m using all those years of experience to help our clients grow their business. Most days, it doesn’t feel like work — and for that, I am very lucky.

I am proud of my work with one client in particular: Positive Peers. The Blue Star team is lucky enough to have teamed up with MetroHealth and our friends over at Blackbird to help design an app for young people living with HIV. The app allows them to track their health, interact with other HIV patients anonymously, and find support and resources. I am managing the social media campaign to promote the app and blogs. 

It has been an honor to use social media tools to offer support, provide education, and actually change people’s lives. 

Positive Peers has been a challenge from the beginning. Because HIV is still stigmatized in our society, I knew a lot of people would not necessarily want to like our posts or follow our accounts for fear of revealing their status to the world.

Despite that major challenge, we’ve had significant success on social media. And even though I’ve been on social media for more than half of my life, our Positive Peers campaign has taught me a few things. 

Know your audience

Our target audience for the Positive Peers app is primarily young, gay, black men in the Greater Cleveland area. This is the demographic that is disproportionately affected by HIV in our area, and the one that the program is aiming to help.

While HIV alone is a major hurdle, these young people also face incredible challenges in their daily lives, most of which I will never know. Some are currently homeless or have experienced homelessness. Many are living in poverty. Many don’t have consistent access to healthcare. Some struggle with drug addiction or alcoholism. Many are struggling in a world that does not accept aspects of their identity. 

I have to keep these challenges in mind in order to create content that resonates. They don’t need lectures. They don’t need pity. But they do need support. 

Be where your audience is

When we first launched this social media campaign, I was fairly confident that Facebook and Twitter would be our social media stars because they’re both platforms where I’ve had success promoting content in the past. 

But I was wrong.

And looking back now, it makes sense.

Because our target audience skews quite a bit younger — ages 13 to 34 — our strongest platform, by far, is Instagram.

Both Facebook and Twitter are still powerful social media platforms, but that’s just not where this younger generation is spending a lot of its time. Facebook is where their moms are hanging out (no offense, moms!), and Twitter has a notorious troll problem. Neither makes for a great place to open up about your deeply personal and heavily stigmatized health problems.

So Instagram is where it’s at for Positive Peers. We’ve successfully tapped into an active and supportive community of HIV patients, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations, as well as the LGBTQ community. It doesn’t hurt that the Blue Star team has created some amazing images and videos to go along with our blog content, which helps us thrive on Instagram.

Twitter and Facebook haven’t been a total loss for this campaign. Both platforms have proven great for reaching other HIV healthcare providers around the world, many of who have responded positively to our social media and blog efforts.

Speak their language

Most of my clients are B2B companies, so their audiences often consist of experts within their field. Sometimes, the content can get a little dry.

Thankfully, Positive Peers gives me the freedom to have a little fun and get creative. There is plenty of information about HIV out in the world — but a lot of it is…well, kind of scary. We’ve made a concerted effort to take a different approach with a hopeful, sassy, and sometime sexy tone. 

Here are some examples:

Positive Peers Instagram 

Positive Peers Instagram

Positive Peers Instagram

Positive Peers Instagram

I use emojis in nearly every post. Not only is it a huge part of how this generation communicates, but it helps keep the posts feeling fun — even when the topic can get pretty heavy.

I also sneak in a Beyoncé reference every chance I get because I’m pretty sure this audience feels the same way about Queen Bey as I do.

Positive Peers is one of the few social media clients I’ve had the privilege of starting from the beginning, and although it’s a challenge at times, I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.

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