Hot influencers and Grindr: Communicating safety info during the mpox public health emergency


Communications leaders from the dating app and Springboard HealthLab shared their experiences at PRWeek’s Healthcare Conference.

L-R: PRWeek's Steve Barrett, Springboard HealthLab's Jen Hecht, and Grindr's Patrick Lenihan. (Photo credit: Brandon Doerrer).

NEW YORK: Springboard HealthLab executive director Jen Hecht is not surprised you've probably never heard of the company.

She knows that brands such as Grindr are more recognizable, but if you're familiar with the well-known dating app, you've probably interacted with HealthLab's work.

The conversation including Hecht and Grindr VP and head of communications Patrick Lenihan at PRWeek's Healthcare Conference + Awards was a case study in how health organizations work behind the scenes with companies, including dating apps, to communicate in public health emergencies.

The two executives discussed the mpox epidemic, formerly known as monkeypox, and its effect on the users of Grindr, which serves the LGBTQIA community, sexually active gay men in particular, as a hookup and dating app. Mpox is a virus that passes from person to person through sexual contact, primarily affecting the gay community.

When an outbreak was confirmed last year, Grindr knew it would affect its users, and also its business. Lenihan said that the virus was personal for the company's team because many of its employees are also users, and a virus specifically targeting people using the app was an immediate concern.

Grindr worked with HealthLab to develop communications methods to educate its audience by being authentic and transparent about what it knew, how much it knew and what it was doing about it.

"Authenticity and finding channels, or message carriers, who your audience is going to believe is so important. In this case, hot influencers, pretty effective. Grindr, also pretty effective," Lenihan said. "Those are authentic channels of communication for the population who was at risk here."

As the spread of mpox became clear, HealthLab was prepared to move into action with messaging plans and channels previously established with partners worldwide, including sharing its data and information with dating apps.

HealthLab pushed out more than 20 messages in 2022 about the virus, with an average click-through rate of 8% and a highest click-through rate of 18%, directing people to a tool to find a vaccine near them. The vaccine locator it developed was ultimately transferred to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We did this really amazing baton pass with CDC. They weren't able to [create a tracker] quickly enough so we jumped in; we did it," Hecht said. "From the very beginning, it was 'we're gonna give it back to you, just tell us when you're ready.' We've handed it back again, so those collaborations and partnerships are really important."

In addition to public health emergency response, the organization has worked with platforms such as Grindr to embed features where users can share their HIV status, the date of their last HIV test and reminders for sexually transmitted infection testing. This type of structural communication channel allows people to engage every day with health hygiene.

"Grindr represents a community of people who are not unfamiliar with public health crises," Lenihan said. "We learned a lot of lessons through the AIDS epidemic and that wasn't that long ago. Most of us remember it, and remember many of the things that we have learned to have a population of people globally, who were very keyed into their health and making sure of their sexual health in particular."

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