Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the UK’s biggest HIV and sexual health charity, tasked G2 Joshua with creating a strategic communications programme to promote their “we listen” campaign, to address one of the charity’s most significant concerns – the proportion of gay men in the UK with HIV who are not getting tested for HIV. The idea behind the communications strategy was to position THT as a facilitator of peer-to-peer conversations – encouraging gay men to share their experiences around HIV testing as a means to breaking down taboos and addressing barriers.
The primary objective was to understand what concerns the target audience had, and be able to supply the appropriate information and support, in language that would be empathetic and readily understood. The second objective was to isolate the key concerns of the target audience so as to facilitate effective communications. Finally, whilst this was not a commercial campaign, we needed to demonstrate efficacy of spend.
G2 Joshua immediately recognised the need to switch THT’s focus from being a broadcast organisation to one of audience engagement. However, achieving this was not going to be an easy task – the gay and bisexual community is both large and eclectic. Understanding what concerned them was not going to be simple. Standard research would not be appropriate as we would have been ‘leading the witness’. What we needed was an approach that would generate ‘organic’ insight – in other words we needed to encourage peer-to-peer debate.
G2 Joshua employed an innovative communications campaign centered on the use of social media and supported by integrated creative activity to address one of the most serious issues among gay men in the UK – the vast number who are not getting tested for HIV. Our approach was simple: we created an impactful poster and banner campaign that simply stated that after many years of talking, it was time for us to listen. It directed the target audience to a portal where they could then talk about what concerned them and where they could interact with others. In effect, we had repurposed social platforms to become a social research tool. And in the course of this we conducted a large scale qualitative research programme – stimulated and moderated ‘organically’ by the target audience themselves.
The strategy was executed through a visually striking creative featuring the line ‘It’s my turn to talk’. The ads ran online, in print titles, outdoor formats across London Underground network, and in bars and clubs in major UK cities.
The initial activity was designed to invite gay men to join in a much bigger conversation about sex. Three different digital listening platforms were created to support this phase, including a private forum where men were invited to take part in discussions, vote in polls and write their own diaries. Gay men were also able to share their views via the ‘We Listen’ Facebook page, or by using the hashtag (#welisten) when on Twitter. Key findings from the listening activity were published on the microsite welisten.org.uk, and have been used to inform the next phase of the campaign.
Judging by the engagement we experienced, with over 100 stories posted, the campaign appears to have opened the door to a place where gay men feel safe to share often sensitive and emotive stories about the benefits of overcoming their fears.
The campaign attracted:
- Over 10,000 unique visitors to the portal
- Average dwell time of 7.25 minutes per user session (over twice as long as dwell time on THT’s main website)
- 3,256 unique visitors to Facebook page
The campaign performed tremendously well as a social research platform and that was its primary objective. Other factors that demonstrated that the approach had worked was an average dwell time of over seven minutes per visit, much higher than industry standards. However, perhaps most importantly was the fact that a digital approach to gathering insight facilitated an ‘always on’ means of gathering data. In real time we understood what real people were thinking about the issue – priceless.
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