Thursday, September 2, 2010

Can Foursquare get youth to "check in" to STD testing?

As technology and social networking continue to expand, it is logical to think about the connection to public health. We need to think specifically about its use among priority populations already using it- like youth. It has just been announced that Foursquare will team up with MTV for their "Get Yourself Tested" (GYT) campaign. I'll back up quickly for those that are not familiar with Foursquare. It is a mobile application that allows users to "check in" at locations in order to explore a new city, link up friends, etc. There is also a "competitive" nature to the application which offers "badges" and other titles to individuals which visit the most spots.

Foursquare and GYT have teamed up to offer the first cause-related badge for users who visit STD testing sites. The goal of offering the badge and allowing users to announce it in a public setting is to reduce the stigma of STD testing. This is a common public health strategy- to focus on reducing a specific barrier to a health behavior. In this case, planners are hoping to reduce stigma by normalizing STD testing.

The article does not mention how the program will be evaluated. It seems simple enough to track the number of people who obtain the GYT badge (which I assume is just based on self report). It would be interesting to have some kind of follow up with users to find out:

1. Why they decided to get tested (was it due to exposure to the GYT materials/foursquare badge?)

2. Was this the first time that they were tested? I.e., is this campaign actually initiating a new action among youth? Or is it only attracting youth that have already bought into this behavior?

3. Is there a certain demographic most influenced via Foursquare? How is this similar/different than the changes they are documenting using more traditional channels like PSAs/posters, etc?

I know many of my friends/followers are Foursquare users- what do you think of using the application for "causes" and other public health initiatives?

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