As the sexual minority health coordinator at the Florida Department of Health in Orlando, Fla., USF College of Public Health graduate student Nicole Elinoff understands the power of social media.
A full-time employee and MPH student who commutes from Tampa to Orlando—something she describes as a “short-term struggle for long-term gain”—she practices her passion of HIV prevention daily.
“As many of us know in public health, social media is a really important tool to engage different individuals,” she said. “The initiative I’m representing—Talk. Test. Treat Central Florida—is an initiative of our local health department because we really want to stress all aspects of HIV prevention across the whole continuum: talking about HIV, raising awareness, breaking myths, getting tested to know your status, getting treated to prevention HIV through PreP, and living well with HIV.”
The power of social media to reach large groups of individuals is key to the FDOH’s outreach efforts, according to Elinoff.
She and her community partner Daniel Downer, creator and founder of Bros. in Convo Initiative—a grassroots effort with the aim to “empower young men of color to live their best and healthiest lives” through HIV prevention—applied to attend the Facebook Communities Summit in San Francisco, held Feb. 7-8.
If either of them were selected, they agreed to bring the other, according to Elinoff.
So, when Downer was selected, the two both hopped on a plane to represent the HIV prevention work they’ve been doing in Orlando, Fla. The summit brought together local business and nonprofit communities, Facebook group leaders, and others working in health, for a two-day experience of best practices and dialogue on how to improve efforts.
“The summit provided some good insight on what attracts more attention,” Elinoff said. “They spoke on the use of GIF images and different ways to use the current algorithms on Facebook. Some of those tools we learned we are already starting to play around with.”
Elinoff said the conference also highlighted the ways Facebook groups and social media pages could be a source of support for those dealing with specific health issues, such as those newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
“There were just some really innovative and incredible things that health leaders are doing to provide support and resource that are meeting people where they are,” she said. “The health system is hard to navigate for a lot of individuals and some of these groups are helping it become easier for families all across the country.”
Having worked in her current position for more than two years now, Elinoff said that many in the Orlando area are unaware of the impact of HIV in the area.
“Not many people know that the Orlando metropolitan area is ranked number two in the country for new cases of HIV,” she said. “We have an epidemic here in Florida and when people think about Orlando, they think about Disney, but not about the community that is being impacted every day.”
Having lost her own uncle to HIV-related complications in 2012, Elinoff said HIV advocacy and stigma fighting is also at the top of her public health passions list, along with reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ health.
“I want to see more conversations taking place,” she said. “A lot of people still believe that HIV is a thing of the past and it’s at the back of people’s mind, but I want there to be more comfortable, brave conversations about HIV. All sexual health matters, I want people to live a life of wellness where they feel whole.”
She said the summit armed her with new strategies to make those conversations happen.
“It was just a really exciting experience being able to go and join all these passionate individuals and I’m very fortunate and grateful to have had that opportunity,” she said.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health