Doctors in the Northern Territory have taken a unique approach to tackling a syphilis outbreak in the Darwin, spreading the public health message to men through Grindr.
Billing itself as "the world's leading mobile social network app exclusively for gay, bi and curious men," Grindr allows men to connect with other men in their area based on proximity settings, all through a simple swipe interface -- similar to matchmaking app Tinder.
But while Grindr is all about networking and fun for its users, medical staff at the Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control saw the opportunity to use it as a vessel to share a more serious message.
Taking advantage of the geolocation targeting built into the app, as well as Grindr's prominence in the gay community, the CDC pushed out messages to Grindr users in Darwin to generate awareness about syphilis and to encourage testing.
The campaign ran over seven consecutive days, followed by three subsequent weekends, resulting in a significant increase in men presenting for testing at sexual health clinics. The CDC was also able to pull out statistics on the number of unique views that the campaign had to get a clearer idea of demographics in the territory, with a figure that was almost three times the known number of homosexual and bisexual men in the Northern Territory a decade before.
According to the CDC, which has just published a report on its findings, this was the first campaign of its kind to document the "experience and effectiveness of using Grindr as a mass communication tool" for this kind of sexual health messaging.
Speaking to ABC News 24 today, the CDC's Dr Matthew Thalanany said the era of social media had changed the way medical professionals communicate with the public.
"Social media is something that has become a very 21st century method of communication," he said. "It appeals to young people...it is a very popular way of getting through to people in a very intimate, one-to-one way."
Compared to other forms of advertising and awareness campaigns, Dr Thalanany said Grindr offered "a much quicker and more efficient way" to get the message out, and that these social media apps were highly effective as "a vehicle to get public health messages out in times of need".