Beginning in the early part of the 21st century, Web applications began to change the way we communicate. A single person — who before had been limited to a “point-to-point” communication method such as face-to-face conversation or a telephone call — can now reach an audience of hundreds or thousands of people with a single click. “One-to-many” communication channels, such as television or radio advertising, had previously been expensive and their reach limited to a general audience. We have since seen a dramatic increase in the use of online and other electronic tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and texting) for sharing and creating content, which in this document are collectively called social media. Companies and government agencies are discovering how to harness the power of social media to expand the reach of their marketing and communication messages.
For those of us in health communication, social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging allow us to expand our reach, foster engagement, and increase access to credible, science-based health messages. Social media can help organizations achieve the after goals:
• Disseminate health and safety information in a timelier manner.
• Increase the potential impact of important messages.
• Leverage networks of people to make information sharing easier.
• Create different messages to reach diverse audiences.
• Personalize health messages and target them to a particular audience.
• Engage with the public.
• Empower people to make safer and healthier decisions.
When integrated into health communication campaigns and activities, social media can encourage participation, conversation, and community—all of which can help spread key messages, influence decision making, and promote behavior change. Social media also helps to reach people when, where, and how it’s convenient for them, which improves the availability of content and might influence satisfaction and trust in the health messages delivered.
Social media is also a key tool in building awareness and credibility. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report in 2011, “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives,” nearly half of adults (47%) used at least one social networking site in 2010. That number is growing quickly, nearly doubling from 2008 (26%). Social networks are places where people gather information from experts and peers to help them make health decisions.
What Is This Guide For? How Should It Be Used?
As a health communicator, you craft health and safety messages that can have a profound impact on the public. Using social media, these messages can reach more audiences and have an even greater impact on the public. This Guide aims to assist you in translating your messages so they resonate and are relevant to social media audiences, and encourage action, engagement, and interaction. It is largely tactical, giving you specific ways to write for social media channels.
Although a wide variety of social media tools exist, this Guide will focus on three specific channels: Facebook, Twitter, and text messages (short message service, or SMS). For information on other channels, social networking sites, and microblogs, visit CDC’s Social Media Tools, Guidelines and Best Practices at http://www.cdc.gov/SocialMedia/Tools/guidelines/.
Social Media and Communication Strategy
Keep in mind that social media is one tool in a larger communication strategy. Always consider your overarching communication goals when developing social media activities. As with all media outreach, the keys to an effective social media presence are to
• Identify your target audience.
• Determine your objective.
• Select the appropriate channel for your message.
• Decide upfront how much time and effort you can invest.
You can learn more about social media strategy in The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit at http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/SocialMediaToolkit_BM.pdf.