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Opinion: How to harness effective social media messaging

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The advent of social media has given us collectively a great gift: For the first time in history, much of the world’s population has the ability to share messages around the globe within seconds. The tool has completely revolutionized our ability to communicate, which has never been more apparent than through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the world, organizations – from government agencies to health departments and health systems – are using social media to try and disseminate information to relevant populations. What a perfect opportunity to help ensure that everyone knows what they need to, right? 

It is. But it’s also an opportunity for misinformation to spread like the virus itself, taking hold and potentially remaining with the person who consumes it, often to their detriment. Despite these challenges, I believe that social media offers a great deal of good. While the platforms are continuously emerging, here are a few things to keep in mind as you explore how to integrate or expand your organization’s use of the tools.

  1. Share the facts. Transparent and authentic conversations are key benefits to social media. While there are times when not all information can be shared, be as open as possible. However, be very careful that the information you are posting on social media is accurate. Especially in times of crisis or controversy, it is imperative that there is great emphasis on the accuracy of what is being said. Mistakes will happen, but I would suggest caution in sharing assumptions. If only part of the information is known, be sure to make that clear. If you are in a situation that ties to crisis communication, I also would suggest you stay as neutral as possible and allow the facts to speak for themselves. Take the time to correct misinformation if it should be shared on your post. Try not to take a defensive tone; most people simply have heard info from an incorrect source.
  2. Appeal to an emotional side. Why does someone care about what you have to say? As much as you can, think about content from the side of your audience. Make it tap into something that is relevant to their life and causes them to stop and think. Those types of posts are more likely to attract attention and help get your message out even more.
  3. Be part of the conversation. Pay attention to what people are talking about. If there is something going on in the world that you can chime in on, take the opportunity. Social media at its soul is about news and what is going on, so being part of a larger conversation is a good way to stay relevant when appropriate. On the flip side, if there are topics evolving in the world, either on a larger or local level, and you have an expert voice that can weigh in, take the chance to offer more information.
  4. Utilize direct contact. Social media gives the chance to speak one-on-one with your followers. Whenever possible, I would encourage you to engage with these people when opportunity presents itself. Did they ask a question? Did they have a concern? Did they want to share a compliment? Responding to these moments not only shows the specific person that you care about what they have to say (and gives you the chance to recover service if possible) but also shows others who may be reading the posts that you are accessible. Also, do not automatically delete interactions that might be perceived as negative. If everything on a page is positive, it begins to look inauthentic. Be responsive and take the time to respond to people who try to engage with you.
  5. Evaluate messages for particular platforms. Spend time thinking through how messages are best presented on various social platforms. What might sound great and engage followers on Facebook may not be the right tone for Twitter or Instagram. Also, work to avoid cross-posting content on all platforms in exactly the same way whenever possible; if you do that, why would someone have incentive to follow you in more than one space? However, even simple repositioning of messaging can make it possible to use the same overall subject more than once.

Kaitlyn McConnell is the system director of public relations for CoxHealth. She can be reached at kaitlyn.mcconnell@coxhealth.com.

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