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Seven Questions Before Starting Social Media

This news item is the fourth in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on planning for social media use.

This news item is the fourth in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on planning for social media use.

June 10, 2013

Social media’s pervasive influence in American culture makes it an obvious tool for marketing and communication. But there is more to social media success than signing up for an account and writing a few tweets. Though social media can allow organizations to connect with hard-to-reach people, it takes time and strategy, and it isn’t a good fit for every audience.

1. Do you have the resources?

Signing up for a social media account is free, but as RADM Patrick O’Carroll MD, MPH, has said, “Free does not mean ‘no cost.’” Effective social media requires substantial time, the right technology, and committed staff. Some experts suggest dedicating 30–40 hours a week and as much as $42,000 a year for Facebook and Twitter management alone.

2. What is your organization’s social media policy?

Most organizations establish rules about how employees can use social media—some even block social media sites from office computers. Consider how your social media plans will be affected by existing rules. If your organization lacks employee guidelines, it is a good idea to set parameters before launching a public social media campaign. This tool, developed at the University of Albany, can help.

3. Who are you trying to reach?

Public health professionals face the toughest communications challenges. Your audiences may not speak a common language, have access to technology, or use social media regularly. Examine your target population critically to determine if social media is an appropriate marketing method.

4. What are your goals?

Like all communications, social media use takes planning. You have to find your audience online, get them to follow you, give them useful information, and hopefully, engage them in conversation. Each of these steps should be carefully calculated so that you avoid the echo chamber and stay on track.

5. Who is responsible?

Really good social media users do more than talk at people—they talk with people. In order to foster these conversations, accounts have to be actively monitored for opportunities, and those opportunities have to be seized quickly. Identify a dedicated staff member (or members) who can commit to this kind of on-going responsibility.

6. Which platforms will you use?

Not all social media platforms attract the same audience or accomplish the same goals. Facebook has the largest user base, but Instagram is increasingly popular among certain youth. Some platforms require permission to connect, and others are less stringent. These factors can affect your penetration in a social network.

7. Will you be tracking results? If so, how?

It’s a good idea to track your social media results so that you can adapt to new needs and identify communications gaps. Facebook Pages will do this automatically and send you a weekly report. Social media dashboards like Hootsuite* and Tweetdeck* allow you to update multiple platforms and monitor key words. Lastly, social media analytics tools (which often come at a financial cost) can help you produce in-depth reports about the performance of your various social media accounts. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has compiled a more comprehensive list of evaluation tools.

Don’t let these questions intimidate you. Rather, let them drive decisions about how, when, and where you begin using social media. If you have more questions, explore some of training opportunities and toolkits we recommend, which can shed more light on how to begin this process.

*NWCPHP does not endorse these tools or any platforms mentioned in this blog. These tools are mentioned as examples to provide clarity.

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