The following guide draws from the experiences of the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Kaiser Permanente, and Code for America's GetCalFresh project.
1) The CDC’s Guide to Writing for Social Media 2012
Be Clear and Concise:
- Use easy-to-understand language.
- Catch the reader’s attention with a compelling lead that provides the most important information first.
- Abbreviations are necessary in a 160-character message, but try to use them sparingly. Try to use commonly-understood abbreviations.
- Have a clear call to action, encouraging people to take concrete steps.
- Explain why the action is important.
- Use strong verbs such as “learn,” “watch,” or “join.”
Be Useful and Relevant:
- Send messages that are tied to current events, seasons, or observance days.
- Provide concrete knowledge and additional resources.
Use Web Content as a Source of Material:
- News articles, fact sheets, and FAQs are excellent sources of additional material.
- Web content has often been developed, edited, and cleared through the proper channels.
- Just be sure to rework your web content so it makes sense over text.
Customize your Texts:
- The CDC asks users questions about themselves to better target their messages.
- Questions include age, gender, health condition, subscriber’s role, and zip code.
- Identify Yourself: You should always identify yourself in your text, so your subscribers know who the text is from.
Provide Access to More Information:
- Include a phone number or URL in your message, so users can follow up.
- Make sure all numbers are numerical and formatted, so readers can click to call.
2) CDC: Social Media Guidelines and Best Practices (2010), Sample Messages
"Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detector when u turn your clocks back on Nov 1; replace batteries if needed. Call CDC 800-232-4636 or http://m.cdc.gov."
"Cover cough & sneezes to protect others. Call CDC 800-232-4636 or http://m.cdc.gov for more info. Reply HEALTH QUIT to end."
"Spread the word! Tell friends & family to text 4HEALTH to 87000 to get these weekly H1N1 messages & impt health tips. Call CDC 800-232-4636 or http://m.cdc.gov"
"Thanksgiving is Nat'l Family History Day. Talk to UR family about health conditions that run in UR family. Learn more http://m.cdc.gov/family. CDC 800-232-4636"
3) Kaiser to Roll out Text Messaging Appointment Reminders (2009), Lessons Learned
- Generic appointment reminders are more effective than specific ones: Mammogram appointment reminders that specified the test had a 2.96 percent unsubscribe rate, for example.
- Patients aged 13 to 17 years old and 18 to 24 years old have the highest opt-out rate probably because they know how to opt-out.
4) Additional Tips
- Don’t have people draw inferences of what to do. Give them an action they can take. Ex.: “CalFresh (Food Stamps): You may stop receiving benefits at the end of the month. Questions? Call (555) 555-5555.”
- Testing with users/recipients of text messages should occur at least twice prior to deployment.