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J Health Commun. 2011 Apr;16(4):448-54. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2010.546486.

Formative research on MySpace: online methods to engage hard-to-reach populations.

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  • 1ISIS, Inc., Oakland, California 94612, USA.


The Internet, particularly online social networks, can be an effective and culturally relevant communications channel to engage hard-to-reach populations with HIV prevention interventions. This article describes the process of conducting formative research on a popular social networking site, MySpace, in an effort to involve youth of color in design of programmatic content and formats for an Internet intervention. We discovered that asynchronous focus groups worked well to engage hard-to-reach populations. The synchronous groups allowed maximum participation and easy transcription for analysis. The authors found that using a social networking site to conduct formative research was useful to guide the development of a social networking intervention for youth of color. Researchers need to be flexible in adapting their research methods and interventions to the context of online social networking sites to most effectively engage hard-to-reach populations.

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