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Social media is a powerful communication tool, but if you or your department are new to the scene, it can be hard to know where to begin.

To help you build your department’s social media presence, UW Medicine social media experts Dom Lewis and Eder Reynoso share tips for getting started, pitfalls to avoid and how to create quality content.

Start with why

Before you dive into filters, hashtags and stories, it’s helpful to think about the reason you want to create a social media account.

“The most important thing when starting an account is to consider why,” Lewis says.

You’ll want to consider what audience you are trying to reach and why you want to connect with them through social media. Once you’ve determined the purpose of the account, you can set goals, like the number of followers or likes, to help track your progress and better determine what content resonates with your viewers.

In some cases, such as trying to publicize a one-off post or event, it may make more sense to leverage UW Medicine’s social media accounts, which have large audiences and can amplify your message.

“Sometimes your mindset has to change,” Reynoso says. “Instead of creating your own channel, you can partner with us to get bigger exposure and keep up momentum.”

Pick your platform

From Snapchat to LinkedIn to Reddit, there are a lot of social media sites out there, but that doesn’t mean you should create an account on all available platforms.

“Less is more. You want to build your foundation so that you don’t get burned out or discouraged,” Reynoso says.

For most people, this looks like starting with what Reynoso calls the building blocks of social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

If you’re looking to raise awareness about your team or department, Instagram’s photo-focused accounts will help your audience feel more connected to your work. Twitter, on the other hand, which uses short posts and threads (a series of replies to a post), is great for sharing public health information and news.

And if your aim is to simply build a following, Lewis recommends Facebook, which combines a bit of both.

Other social media sites offer unique features — just make sure you are being intentional with your platform choice. This may mean utilizing LinkedIn to connect with employees or YouTube to share videos and recorded webinars.

Ultimately, the idea is to choose a platform that will enable you to meet your social media goals.

Follow best practices

Once you’ve determined your platform, it’s time to start posting.

Avoid mistakes and find success with Lewis and Reynoso’s social media do’s and don’ts.

DO: Plan for the long game

Building a strong social media presence takes time, so it’s best to plan ahead.

Determine who will manage the accounts so that you are able to post regularly and engage with any questions or comments from followers.

Lewis and Reynoso note there isn’t a magic number of posts you should publish per week. Instead, focus on consistently posting quality content that will help you increase your followers and engagement over time.

DO: Create an engaging profile and content

Your profile is where viewers form their first impression of you. Put your best foot forward with a strong bio, profile photo and header image. You can also pin posts that you want followers to see at the top of your page.

As for creating content, Reynoso recommends looking at similar organizations and teams for inspiration. Posts that help humanize your team or give an inside look at the work you do will help attract followers.

It also helps to keep a warm and conversational tone. For example, if you want to share a recent scientific discovery, work to unpack the information and use conversational language so your readers understand what you are trying to say.

DO: Keep it professional

While a warm tone to your social media is good, you don’t want to take things too far.

“It’s important to keep a professional mindset forefront,” Lewis says. “It helps to ask, ‘If I didn’t know this brand, how would I perceive it from an outsider’s view?’”

This means avoiding any content that is inappropriate to share from a professional UW Medicine account, like an employee’s pregnancy announcement or personal contact information.

DON’T: Post sensitive information

“First and foremost, UW Medicine accounts need to be HIPPA compliant,” Reynoso says.

While you wouldn’t intend to share sensitive information, it’s important to comb through your posts for any health information before publishing them.

Photos can be particularly tricky. Double check to make sure there is no protected information in the background of your images, including ID badges, patient information on vial labels, and charts or paperwork on desks.

DON’T: Follow personal accounts

If you’re running a social media account for work, Lewis recommends only following UW Medicine’s partner brands and organizations. This will help you follow UW Medicine social media guidelines and avoid sharing posts that have not been fact checked or that come from unreliable sources.

On your personal social media accounts, you can follow, like and post as you see fit, though it’s always good to remember that once you post something, you no longer have control over who sees that information.

“What you post on the Internet will be there forever,” Lewis notes.

It comes down to being mindful about how you are representing yourself on your personal accounts and UW Medicine on any work accounts.

With some awareness, creativity and effort, soon your social media presence will be off and running.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series, where we discuss personal social media best practices and how to follow UW Medicine’s social media guidelines.