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July 2008

July 29, 2008


If You Build It, Will They Come? (Part 4 on Blogging)

red bullhorn

If you decide to start a blog for yourself or your organization, part of your strategy should include blog promotion. How and where you promote your blog are key elements in engaging your readers to comment, subscribe, and share your messages.

To learn more about blog marketing and promotion, we continue our conversation this week with Paul Twitchell from AIDS Action Committee’s blog Exit Disclaimer and Dr. David Wessner, Professor at Davidson College, of The AIDS Pandemic blog Exit Disclaimer. We’re also joined by James Daugherty, author of the HIV and AIDS News blogExit Disclaimer, and we’ll share our own blog promotion experiences at AIDS.gov.

Be Relevant

Creating meaningful and relevant content is one of the most important ways to get people to read and subscribe to your blog. Everyone we spoke to commented on the importance of being authentic. As James told us, “My best advice would be to blog about what you want,” he said. At AIDS.gov, we strive to create relevant content by consistently checking in with our readers, monitoring their comments and feedback, and responding with meaningful material. Our readers told us they wanted to hear more HIV/AIDS-specific new media examples. We responded by including this perspective in every post.

Make Sure People Can Find your Blog

Here are some recommendations from our colleagues and the AIDS.gov blog team on how to make your blog visible:

  • Promote your blog on your organization’s website with a prominent link to the blog.
  • Include your blog URL in all print materials. (It may be worth using a dedicated postcard mailing or handout to promote your blog launch.)
  • If you have a newsletter (online or off), announce the blog launch in your newsletter and then include a blurb about it with the blog URL in every subsequent issue.
  • Mention your blog during interviews.
  • Share the URL with your peers in other organizations and invite them to let their audiences know about it.
  • Identify established bloggers with an affinity for your subject matter, and invite them to write about and link to your blog. (If appropriate, you might also invite them to guest post on your blog.)
  • Offer readers a way to subscribe to your blog by e-mail or an RSS feed.

“We also use some traditional search engine optimization (SEO) Exit Disclaimer techniques to make sure we are showing up where we want to,” said Paul. SEO is a process that helps improve your website’s ranking on search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! Our own SEO efforts include using Google AdWordsExit Disclaimer , using keywords (we’ll write more about this in a future post). James evaluates the success of his marketing efforts by checking where he ranks on Google (right now, his blog is the third Google result for blogs with HIV news).

Photo of Three Davidson College students

Davidson College students

Google results are not important for every blogger. Because David Wessner’s AIDS Pandemic blog and podcasts are primarily course projects, he’s not as concerned with promoting them. “I encourage my students to tell their friends about the blog. I’ve talked about it at conferences, within the context of using blogs in the classroom. It’s been fun to see The AIDS Pandemic get mentioned by a few different groups (like AIDS.gov), but obtaining a large number of subscribers has not been one of my goals.”

Build Community

Part of promoting a blog is making sure it is accessible to everyone. If your organization’s policy allows, and has the infrastructure to moderate them, we recommend that you enable comments.

When we asked Paul how AAC promotes their blog, he told us they used traditional marketing methods when they first launched it. “We issued a press release and we featured links to recent posts prominently on our homepage.” Since then, they have developed relationships with other AIDS-related blogs and occasionally cross-post on their blogs--so their promotion has moved online.

It is also important to become an active participant in the blogosphere. The AIDS.gov team contacts all the people who are mentioned on this blog and encourages them to leave a comment. We join the conversation by developing relationships with others who blog about new media and/or HIV/AIDS.

Conferences are another way to share information about your blog. For example, in a few weeks, we’ll be presenting about our blog at the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media.

Keep Learning

We continue to learn from our colleagues, like Paul, James, David, and YOU. And when it comes to promotion, we are inspired by posts like Problogger’s If You Were Starting Out in Blogging from Scratch - How Would You Promote Your Blog? Exit Disclaimer and Chris Brogan’s Growing Your Audience - Some Basics Exit Disclaimer. In addition, search-this.com Exit Disclaimer has a helpful series of four articles that cover various aspects of how to promote your blog.

Do you have your own blog promotion tips? Or advice for bloggers? Leave us a comment to let us know!

Next week we’ll be writing from AIDS 2008--XVII International AIDS Conference Exit Disclaimer in Mexico City and we’ll be Twittering from there. To find and follow us on Twitter, visit: http://twitter.com/AIDSbooth Exit Disclaimer

July 22, 2008


Perspectives on Blogging about HIV/AIDS (Part 3 on Blogging)

This week we continue our series on blogs.

Blogging can be an effective way to communicate HIV messages and engage people in a dialogue about important issues and topics. Today, we’ll highlight two HIV/AIDS-focused blogs that bring distinct perspectives to the topic--blogs by an HIV/AIDS service provider, and a college professor and his students.

HIV/AIDS blogs in the classroom

Photo of Dr. David Wessner

Dr. David Wessner, a biology professor at Davidson College

We spoke with Dr. David Wessner Exit Disclaimer, a biology professor at Davidson College Exit Disclaimer, and the author of The AIDS Pandemic Exit Disclaimer blog, through which he and his students “explore the biology of HIV/AIDS, its history, and review the latest scientific advances related to this pandemic.” David and his students also offer their blog posts as podcasts Exit Disclaimer. For him and his students, blogging is a way to engage in a conversation on HIV and to reach others with HIV messages.

David started The AIDS Pandemic blog as a course assignment. “Students in my course on HIV/AIDS must write and record installments for the blog/podcast,” he told us. “I hoped this assignment would serve two purposes. First, it would require the students to discuss, in a very concise way, a scientific topic of interest to them that relates to the pandemic. Second, because of the public nature of the blog/podcast, I hoped the students would remain engaged with their topic after the assignment was completed. I thought friends and family members might listen to the podcast and ask them questions, and readers might post comments to which the students could respond.”

When we asked David how he measures the success of his blog, he told us, “For me, success depends more on the outcomes for my students. I measure their satisfaction with the assignment through surveys, and I track the number of times that students respond to comments from readers.” He says, “As long as the blog or podcast is fulfilling your personal goals, it should be considered a success!”

A community AIDS blog

Photo of Paul Twitchell

Paul Twitchell, Communications and Marketing Director of AIDS Action Committee (AAC)

Next we spoke with Paul Twitchell, Communications and Marketing Director of AIDS Action Committee Exit Disclaimer (AAC). Paul told us the AAC blog Exit Disclaimer is one part of AAC’s long-term, online strategy. “We are always looking for new ways to reach out and to interact with our vast and diverse community. Since [the blog’s] launch, AIDS Action has established a foothold in the social networking world ...with sites such as Facebook Exit Disclaimer, MySpace Exit Disclaimer, Flickr Exit Disclaimer, and YouTube Exit Disclaimer.”

AAC’s perspective is that blog comments open up the dialogue between clients and providers, and among bloggers and their readers. To encourage this, AAC strives to develop topical and “comment-worthy” content. Paul told us, “We try to create posts on hot news stories related to HIV/AIDS. Sometimes the posts are commentaries on the news and other times we provide context and clarification on news stories that may have been misleading, and, in some cases, wrong. We will encourage one or more people from our staff or board to weigh in with their own take and let the comments come in.”

AAC has several metrics and tools to measures the success of their blog. They use Google’s free analytical software, Google Analytics Exit Disclaimer, to measure traffic to their blog. “We look at how many sites are linking to ours as one measurement that is particularly interesting to follow,” said Paul. “We have seen a nice increase in the number of sites linking to us over time and I think that is a good indicator that we are content worthy.” Another indicator of success for AAC is the number of comments on the blog. As Paul told us, comments help them understand “when [we] have hit upon a topic that is generating ‘buzz’.”

Thinking of starting your own blog? Paul says, “Stop coming up with excuses about not having the time or knowing how to do it! ” He continued (and we couldn’t agree with him more!), “The people, especially the young people you used to reach with a hotline number or paper pamphlets and brochures, are now online all the time. You need to be where they are. ” He advised, “Don ’t be intimidated by the technology...or ask a 20-something volunteer or staffer to help you. Most of them already have their own blogs. ”

Next week we’ll continue this conversation with David and Paul, with a focus on blog marketing. We’ll also hear from James Daugherty from the HIV and AIDS News Exit Disclaimer blog.

Know about an HIV/AIDS blog that we haven’t mentioned? Please let us know!

July 15, 2008


Blogging about Blogs (Part 2 on Blogging)

While we’ve reflected on whether we think our blog is working, we’ve never posted on blogging basics--so that is the focus of today’s post.

What is a blog?

According to Wikipedia Exit Disclaimer, “A blog is a website Exit Disclaimer...with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material, such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order.” Blogs can be written by individual or multiple authors. This AIDS.gov blog is a team effort-- team members collaborate to bring government, public health, and new media perspectives to each post.

Blogs are usually informal--taking on the tone of a diary or journal entry. Some blogs are very personal, while others provide mainstream news updates. Most blogs encourage dialogue with their readers through the use of comments. Common Craft talks about the value of blog comments in their video, Blogs in Plain English Exit Disclaimer: “Each blog post can become a discussion through comments left by readers. Blogs make the news a two-way street.”

What are some of the benefits and challenges of blogging?

Blogs provide opportunities for an individual or organization to share information and engage in conversation. Problogger Exit Disclaimer says, “Whole blog communities have sprung up...putting people into contact with each other in relationships where they can learn, share ideas, make friends with--and even do business with--people with similar interests from around the world.”

For the AIDS community, benefits might include reaching your clients with important HIV information, like David Wessner’s blog, The AIDS Pandemic Exit Disclaimer. Poz.com blogs Exit Disclaimer are autobiographical stories of people living with HIV/AIDS. James Daugherty’s HIV and AIDS News Exit Disclaimer provides up-to-date information, while chronicling his experiences living with HIV.

Photo of Dr. Kevin Fenton

Dr. Kevin Fenton

We recently spoke with Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. Dr. Fenton told us, “We are launching a blog to engage the public, our grantees and partners in exchanging ideas about HIV, Hepatitis, STD, and TB prevention and our efforts to reduce health disparities, increase program collaboration and service integration, and to enhance global efforts to control these diseases.”

While there are many benefits to blogging, there are also challenges. For one, maintaining a blog takes time (as a government blog, we go through an additional step of having our content go through clearance). And opening up your blog for comments implies a level of transparency that might be challenging for some organizations.

At AIDS.gov, we try to be as transparent as possible and post all comments, as long as they are in accordance with our comment policy, which includes not posting comments that contain vulgar language, personal attacks of any kind, or offensive terms that target specific individuals or groups. We also do not post comments that are clearly off-topic or that promote services or products. Some of our greatest lessons and insights have come from people commenting on our blog.

Want to learn more about blogging?

As with most new media tools, we recommend getting your feet wet. Explore the blogosphere Exit Disclaimer. Read blogs. Comment on blogs. Subscribe to some of the ones that you find interesting. As of June 2008, the blog search engine, Technorati Exit Disclaimer, has indexed over 112 million blogs, so you have a lot to choose from!

The AIDS.gov team has learned a lot about new media and blogging from Beth Kanter’s Beth’s Blog Exit Disclaimer: How Nonprofits Can Use New Media, Katya Andresen’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog Exit Disclaimer, Nedra Weinreich’s Spare Change Exit Disclaimer blog, and Olgilvy’s 360 Digital Influence Exit Disclaimer -- they recently wrote about blogging in the government, mentioning some Federal colleagues’ blogs, such as Secretary Mike Leavitt’s Blog and CDC’s Health Marketing Musings blog, written by Dr. Jay Bernhardt.

And don’t forget your strategy. Identify your target audience. Determine your objectives and strategy. Problogger’s 23 Questions for Prospective Bloggers Exit Disclaimer can help you determine if blogging is right for you or your organization.

If you decide to start a blog, there are many free services to help you get started. Some of the most common ones include Blogger Exit Disclaimer, Typepad Exit Disclaimer, and Wordpress. Exit Disclaimer

As we mentioned in last week’s post, blogging has been an incredible learning experience for us. Whether you decide to start your own blog or continue to read and comment on others’ blogs, we’d love to hear from you!

Stay tuned for next week’s post when we conclude our three-part series on blogging--we’ll be speaking with three HIV/AIDS bloggers!

July 08, 2008


We're 6 Months Old: Part 1 on Blogging

Photo of Birthday cake with a six on it

Photo by Sharyn Morrow Exit Disclaimer

Photo of Alan Gambrell

Alan Gambrell, AIDS.gov Planning Committee member and consultant with HRSA

We started this blog six months ago.

Three months ago we reflected on whether the blog was working and we decided to continue. We declared that we’d continue blogging only as long as we could clearly define how best to measure our success.

Recently one of our colleagues, Alan Gambrell, asked us if we thought the blog was a success. Alan, a consultant with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is an AIDS.gov Planning Committee member and is helping the HRSA staff plan the upcoming Ryan White Program Grantee Meeting Exit Disclaimer. HRSA has invited Miguel Gomez, director of AIDS.gov, to speak on the role of new media at the conference. Alan’s questions were very similar to the ones we’ve been asking ourselves, so we’d like to use this week's blog post to share our responses with you.

Do you consider the blog a success?

We had to take a step back and ask ourselves, “Are we helping our target community?” We are funded by the Minority AIDS Initiative (MAI) to augment the capacity of minority communities in their response to HIV/AIDS. Specifically, we are charged with increasing HIV testing and linkages to treatment and care services for those at greatest risk for HIV.

Photo of Miguel Gomez

Miguel Gomez, Director of AIDS.gov

“We declared that we’d continue blogging only as long as we could clearly define how best to measure our success.”

We needed to recognize that this target audience is already using and depending on new media tools 24/7. They are already using the Web, social networks, podcasts, and blogs to get HIV-related health information, and they are making health decisions based on what they learn. Their families, friends, and caregivers are doing the same thing. So we have to meet them where they are.

So when we ask ourselves “Are we successful? Are we reaching our target community and the goals of the MAI?”, we believe the answer is “Yes.” It is enough? No--but we are proud that through the blog: 1) we’re helping our MAI colleagues and others better understand how to use new media tools to reach their clients in the ways they want to be reached; 2) we are one of very few voices about new media in the fight against HIV/AIDS that also highlights minority new media leaders and; 3) we currently have more requests than we can manage to provide basic new media training to our Federal and non-Federal partners.

These are bold statements!

They are bold, but I have three reasons to feel so strongly that we are meeting the need.

First, thanks to the privilege of managing AIDS.gov, I communicate regularly with the lead Federal program managers and their staff who handle more than $18 billion spent on HIV domestically, as well as with state and local health officials managing HIV programs, people living with HIV/AIDS, and those providing HIV services. They all tell me that we need to dramatically increase our understanding of these new media tools and implement them where appropriate.

Second, on all levels, there are limited concrete plans to do this.

And third, on a positive note, this blog has helped me see the emerging potential of new media and its public health applications. I’ve heard wonderful stories about successful use of these tools from a diversity of sources, including our colleagues at the New Mexico AIDS Services (MySpace page Exit Disclaimer), the San Francisco Department of Public Health (text messaging services Exit Disclaimer), the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (podcasts Exit Disclaimer), and the CDC (National HIV Testing Day Personal PSA project), just to name a few!

How do you ensure that the information on this blog is accurate?

Each week we speak to new media experts to ensure that our messages are accurate. We check in with AIDS service providers to ground assertions by the AIDS.gov team and the experts we talk to. We continue to evaluate what we’re doing and that this blog is meeting an unmet need.

What’s next?

We will continue to blog about new media. We will continue to reach out to AIDS service providers and new media experts so that we can grow and learn along with our readers. And we will continue to respond to comments and to contribute to the conversation on using new media to fight HIV/AIDS.

We’re inspired by Secretary Mike Leavitt’s blog, which is also intended to foster public discussion. He says, “The blog is intended to be a dynamic online conversation [about health and the related challenges that face the nation].” We hope to do the same for new media and HIV/AIDS.

And we are inspired by our readers and contributors. Our goal is to better define our progress by answering the question we always ask ourselves: “How has this blog motivated others to engage in a dialogue on new media and HIV/AIDS?”

So, if you’re a reader/blogger/AIDS service provider -- please let us know how we’re doing. How can we do more? What advice can you give us?

July 01, 2008


Second Life (Part 2 of "We Are Living in a Virtual World")

Screen shot of Michelle Samplin-Salgado's second life avatar, Ellehcim Fizzle

This week we build on our June 10 post about virtual worlds and focus on the well-known site, Second Life Exit Disclaimer.

To better understand how Second Life can help share HIV information and provide support to those who are HIV-positive, we continued our conversation with our colleagues from the NIH-funded Health Info Island, Lori Bell and Carol Perryman. Through our own adventures in Second Life, we also learned from two HIV advocates, Felicita Gonzalez from the Bronx AIDS Services Exit Disclaimer and Matt Cox, an Australian and owner of the Planet Positive Group in Second Life.

How can we use virtual worlds for our HIV/AIDS work?

Screenshot of three second life avatars

Lori told us about the HIV/AIDS Information Center on Health Info Island in Second Life. This virtual building hosts HIV/AIDS support groups and provides HIV education to the general public. She noted, “consumer health information is one of the most important services we could provide. As more and more people of all ages use the Internet and spend increasing amounts of time online, we want to reach users where they are.”

Last December 1st, Health Info Island held the first virtual World AIDS Day with an online Health Fair offering trainings and support groups with participants whose “real life” locations were all over the world. Carol noted, “The HIV/AIDS Groups (comprised of HIV-positive individuals from all over the world) chose to meet with a nutritionist in Second Life to discuss nutrition and HIV. Members of the Group host social and educational events such as dances, displays, and seminars.”

AIDS.gov adventures in Second Life

Health Info Island on Second Life

Our New Media Strategist, Michelle Samplin-Salgado, volunteered to give Second Life a try, and created her own avatar, “Ellehcim Fizzle.” Michelle met Carol (“Carolina Keats” as she’s known in Second Life) from Health Info Island. “Carol gave me a walking tour of the Health Consumer Library. I saw the potential to gather HIV-related information, learn, and share with others in Second Life.”

On another trip to the AIDS Memorial Garden, Michelle met Felicita (“Lizzetta Zenovka” in Second Life) and Matt (his Second Life name is “HarleyMC Homewood”).

Matt and Felicita gave Michelle a tour of the Second Life HIV Support Network Headquarters Exit Disclaimer. Created by Ethan Kristopher-Hartley (his Second Life name is “Ethan LeSabre”), from the UK, this is a place where groups providing HIV related services can be utilized to hold meeting and/or events, and provide members of Second Life one location to find out about the different group services available that provide HIV related services. There she explored rooms created by Broadway Cares Exit Disclaimer, the Illinois Department of Public Health project, Basuah Exit Disclaimer, and a support group in the UK Exit Disclaimer. Matt is starting a room for his group Planet Positive, a group for HIV+ members and their families. “Second Life is superb at linking people from different countries,” he said.

Felicita and Matt discussed the role Second Life Plays in HIV prevention and support. Felicita said, “People can learn about HIV in the privacy of their own home without fear of being embarrassed to overcome the stigma attached to HIV.” Matt added, “...Second Life is user-generated. Even people who feel traumatized or powerless can do things in Second Life, like build links with other people, raise awareness, and raise funds.” He used chat rooms over many years to support other HIV-positive people. “Now I use this forum,” he says. “This is my way of just being there and ‘out there’ for others who are infected.”

Have you spent time in Second Life? What did you find related to HIV/AIDS? In this peer-to-peer community we are just beginning to understand how they can be applied to our work. We look forward to hearing from you and getting your feedback.

Join us next week for our blog post about...blogs! We’ll be celebrating this blog’s six month anniversary.

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