Tech Support for Your Body: Planned Parenthood Online Chats and Text Messaging Programs

BlogHer Original Post

According to Mobile Active, although nonprofits in the United States have been slower to embrace mobile phones for health purposes than other parts of the world, the use of mobile phones by nonprofit social service agencies in the US is gaining traction according to a recent post by MobileActive

 

Take for example sex education programs.   Back in February, 2009,  the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign in North Caorlina launched the Birds and Bee Text Line where teens could ask questions anonymously, free of charge by a sexual health educator, according to an article in the New York Times. 

Being able to text or type into an anonymous online chat lessens the shame and embarrassment when asking delicate questions.   There is a perceived feeling of safety and privacy that teens may have when they're typing into a cell phone or chat.   And, it's probably more effective than adults lecturing them.

The Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties in California has recently launched a mobile initiative, a sex education text messaging hotline, TechSupport for Your Body.   This expansion of their already existing sex education hotlines allows users who send their questions to 53634 to receive a personalized response directly to their mobile device from a live, certified health educator.

According to Stephaniue Kight, Senior Vice President of Community Affairs, "Our text messaging service is conversational.  When we were searching for a new mobile marketing company we really had to find a technology that would work for our human-to-human conversation. Many mobile messaging services and text message programs are based around a one way interaction between a texter and a database, but we have learned from using our live operators that texters are having conversations with our health educators that no database could take the place of. While you can search for answers to sexual health questions online, many teens we have talked with feel the need to explain their unique situation or questions and our conversation based text hotline is perfect."

The texting service and online chat lines have a robust outreach strategy to reach teens.  Kight says that Facebook advertisements have been particularly effective.  She notes, "We had a 60% jump in users of our hotline who were asking very important questions that they couldn't find answers for elsewhere."  When teens reach out to have their questions answered, the agency makes sure they have all the education and the support for all the sexual health needs. Add Kight, "What is so great about reaching out to teens through these social networks and offering our text messaging service is that we are reaching out to those who may not be familiar with our brand, but become familiar after we help with their concerns."

When nonprofits are incorporating new technologies in their service delivery, having success metrics to track how they a moving the needle is of critical importance.  Says Kight, "Putting accurate, honest information into the hands of the people who need it most is critical to improving the overall health care of the community.  We are measuring success by the number of people who use this program.  We also monitor the number of referrals we make to our medical centers as a way of seeing how it might impact our core business." 

Kight says they also monitor in real time using tools like Google Analytics to check where  referrals are coming from and Facebook's ad tracking tool.  Says Kight, "We also time our social networking and online advertising within weeks of each other so that we can monitor the impact of a certain type of campaign by tallying the texts we get, whether it is Facebook advertising one week, Google ad words the next  week, this helps to see the impact of each advertising method."  

What advice would Kight offer for other nonprofits?  "We aren’t just pushing messages to users. This service is about allowing the user to contact us when they need us - we think that is extremely important.  We hope people will think of our hotline services like that really cool big brother or sister who knows everything, is honest and always there for you. We don’t want to be that annoying aunt who is always pushing brochures in your face in the hopes you’ll read them!"

Kight also says that research and piloting is very important.  "Be sure to commit to the project financially and emotionally because projects like this are not created overnight!"

Beth Kanter, author of Beth's Blog, is BlogHer's CE for Nonprofits.

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