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To create an irresistible sandwich, choosing the right bread to hold everything together is paramount. Planning may seem like a lot of effort when you’re itching to dive right in, but each step outlined below will make your time on social media more intentional and increase the likelihood that people will engage with and respond to your posts. As you get better at it, the process becomes quicker and you’ll be encouraged to see more people interacting with your content.

In the social media sandwich, the planning bread is what holds your strategy together and sets you up to get the most out of your time online. Here are six key questions you should ask to help you plan a successful social media posting strategy.

  1. What is your goal with this post or series of posts? Do you want people to share your post, ask questions, provide feedback, read an article or download a paper? Do you want to gain new followers, connect with potential partners or attract funders and clients? Thinking about what you want to get out of your posts will help you clarify what success looks like and how to measure it. If you are posting a link to an article you wrote, for example, consider how you’ll determine whether people clicked the link, read the article or followed up with other actions. Finding these metrics might require using social media analytics or third-party apps or seeking assistance from experts at your institution or elsewhere.
  2. Whom are you trying to reach? Whom you want to target will help hone your message and determine which platforms to post on. Your audience might be colleagues in your field or related fields, students and educators, potential clients or collaborators, journalists, practitioners, or policy makers. How do you find your target audience? One way is to search relevant hashtags on Twitter or LinkedIn to see who is participating in discussions. On Facebook you can find people via open or closed groups and organization pages. For more on how to identify and reach target audiences, check out this great advice from SciFund Challenge.
  3. What is your message? Hitting on the right message and framing will help you connect with your audience and decide which platforms to target. Is your post highlighting a new discovery, sharing a personal triumph or challenge, asking for participation, or offering helpful tips and lessons? Jot down the key points in your message and think about the tone and language that best suits it. Are you trying to be persuasive, provocative or enthusiastic? Formal or informal? Consider what approach will help you connect with your audience to achieve your goals. For more guidance, here’s an article about storytelling on social media and a communication tool kit from AAAS that provides advice on messaging as well as many other aspects of online science communication.
  4. Which platform will you post to? Each social media platform has its strengths and unique style. Twitter is useful if you want to encourage back-and-forth conversation, amplify the reach of a link, or target audiences by hashtags. It’s also a popular platform among scientists and academics. LinkedIn is a great place to share articles and updates about professional topics or to showcase your achievements, while Instagram is ideal for posting images, videos and less formal messages. Many of us use Facebook for personal messages, but you can also reach specific audiences by posting in relevant groups or on organization pages (if you have permission). There are numerous other social media sites to explore such as TikTok, Pinterest and Reddit, but you may want to focus on just a few platforms in order to keep things manageable and be able to actively engage with other users.
  5. Which tags will you use? Hashtags help readers discover your posts and give them a quick idea of what each post is about. Think about two to three keywords to focus on and then do some searching to find the right tags. There are lots of great resources out there to help you find relevant hashtags, such as hashtagify and Display Purposes. Consider which tags best represent your message and avoid the temptation to overwhelm readers with too many. And don’t rely on hashtags to automatically boost your post reach -- how well you relate to your intended audience and provide them with content that resonates is the most important element of success.
  6. When should you post? This question is less critical than the others, but it’s worth considering when your audience is likely to be most active. For example, institutions and businesses are more active during the daytime, while individuals may have more time to engage on evenings or weekends. In some cases, particularly on Twitter, you may want to post more than once at different times or on different days, so that your posts reach a wider audience. Certain social analytics and third-party apps can help tell you when your target audience is most active, but you can also look at your past posts to get a sense of how well they did based on when they were posted.

All right! You’ve done your due diligence and planned out your social media posts to the best of your ability. In the next article in this series, we’ll dive into the meaty middle of the social media sandwich -- the posts themselves.

If you’re hungry for more, consider signing up for Footnote’s free webinar on social media strategy, where we’ll share more tips and tools for increasing the impact of your research through social media.

Kristen Weiss is a scientist turned science communicator who is the social media manager at Footnote, an organization that collaborates with the academic community to increase the impact of their research and expertise through better communication.