Using Smartphone Apps to Reach Gay and Bisexual Men at Risk for HIV

Finding better ways to reach people at higher risk of HIV for testing and engagement with HIV prevention and treatment services is a critical component of a public health response to the HIV pandemic. In a NIDA-funded study published in AIDS and Behavior in November 2020, investigators conducted individual in-depth interviews with 30 Rhode Island men who have sex with men, and held focus group discussions with 18 men who have sex with men. Their goal was to inform the development and implementation of a social marketing campaign centering on smartphone applications (apps).

There was agreement among participants that a social marketing approach using advertisement on apps is a potentially effective means for education and linkage to HIV services. However, participants expressed annoyance at pop-up advertisements on smartphone dating applications, viewing them as too invasive.

Instead, many participants expressed preferences for advertisements that are delivered in other formats, including banner advertisements, displayed on the bottom of the screen or direct messages delivered to their inbox on the app. Participants expressed mixed opinions on provocative images included in advertisements. While some men felt the images were appropriate given their placement on networking apps that frequently use such images, others felt these images perpetuated stereotypes. Some men preferred direct messages focused on facts. Many participants reported a preference for messages that directed them to local trusted institutions.

The research was funded by NIDA in collaboration with the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services.  The investigators point out the need for further research involving people from other communities disproportionately affected by HIV, including MSM who speak languages other than English, and people from diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.


  • Goedel, W.C., Sutten Coats, C., Sowemimo-Coker, G. et al. Gay and Bisexual Men’s Recommendations for Effective Digital Social Marketing Campaigns to Enhance HIV Prevention and Care Continuity. AIDS Behav (2020). [Abstract]