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Social Media 101

Many South Carolina cities are successfully and strategically using social media to engage residents, communicate about city priorities and share good news about what's happening in the city.

Rock Hill used multiple social media platforms to build a successful outreach strategy last summer during the UCI BMX World Championships. The city kept residents informed about all the activity taking place around the event and helped visitors get around the area, decide where to eat and stay, and what to do in Rock Hill.

The City of Rock Hill won a 2017 Municipal Achievement Award for its marketing plan for the championships.

"Admittedly, it's easy to get intimidated when you think about keeping up with multiple social media accounts," said Katie Quinn, public information officer in Rock Hill. "It's even more scary to think about the time it would take to respond to social media messages. Understanding how social media can be used for good and having a strategy to use it are critical."

Quinn offers the following tips to help make the best strategic use of social media platforms.

Use hashtags to help people find your content.
Hashtags are the hash mark (#) followed by a short keyword link used to organize content and track discussion topics based on those keywords. Hashtags help people who are interested in specific events or topics easily find posts of interest.

There is no preset place that approves or keeps lists of hashtags. Anyone can create a new hashtag simply by inserting the hash before a series of words with no spaces between them. If a hashtag is being used for an event or outreach promotion, it's a good idea to thoroughly research if the hashtag or a similar one is already in use. Sometimes even innocent-sounding hashtags have been hijacked for inappropriate uses.

Encourage visitors to share and comment on content.
Using hashtags and handles to mention other organizations that would be interested in the event or program increases the possibility of your post getting comments or being shared.

Understand the strengths and shortcomings of social media platforms.
Every social media platform can bring a different strength to a communications or outreach plan. Facebook works well for longer narratives. Facebook events can help drive traffic to a specific program or event. Twitter is great for sharing links to web posts or new stories. Instagram photos can tell a visual story with few words. Don't try to use the same post on all platforms.

Use video, photographs and graphics to boost engagement.
Keep in mind that social media is a highly interactive communications tool, and research shows posts with images get much higher engagement. Keep videos clips very short and use simple infographics or GIFs (animated image files) to draw attention to your post.

Be aware that social media audiences can tell if a post has been changed or deleted.
Nothing ever completely goes away on the internet. Even if a post is removed, it's highly possible the post was already shared or someone took a screen shot. On Facebook, it's possible to see the string of edits that were made to a post. Having a sound policy about dealing with offensive or inappropriate posts is very important to a successful social media strategy.

Katie Quinn and Ryan Johnson, North Charleston's public information officer, will share additional tips on using social media at an Annual Meeting session on Thursday, July 19.