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Drop More Easter Eggs in Your Social Posts
Featuring an interview with Nick Moran at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
One of the most powerful social media post strategies you can employ? The wink.
“The wink” is a small moment or joke within a social post that a brand hides (or at least doesn’t explicitly call out) for their audience to find. It can be something as simple as a design choice, nostalgic reference, or a timely retweet. If you don’t get the joke, the post often still makes sense. But if you do get the joke, you’ll likely comment something like “Whoever runs social deserves a raise”. It’s an IYKYK style of post that makes an audience not only feel closer to the brand but also want to share the post.
For today’s newsletter, I spoke with Nick Moran, Director of Audience Development at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, about the micro-decisions that the school’s social strategy is built on. Small decisions that have led to posts that wink at Paris Hilton, crypto bros, and Eminem. “Those little flourishes make big differences in engagement.” Read the full interview below.
Rachel Karten: Can you talk to me about your current role and any past social (or not) roles you've had?
Nick Moran: I’ve been working professionally with social media for over a decade, which is bonkers to think about. After I graduated college, I had an internship with a publishing house in New York. Publishing doesn’t pay much to begin with, and internships barely pay anything, so I had side hustles—one of which was running social media for a book review blog called The Millions. I held that role for a couple years even while my day jobs had nothing to do with it. Then in 2013, I finally moved full-time into a social media role when I began working at Johns Hopkins. Since then, my role has evolved and now I oversee a whole team that manages the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s social media presence, among other things.
RK: Can you describe what audience development is and how it differs from a typical social media role?
NM: I’d frame it as a rectangle-square situation. All squares are rectangles, but not every rectangle is a square. Audience development means identifying, building, and ultimately managing audiences for all of the content our team produces. Social is one of these audiences, and obviously you can break it down further by saying we have a Facebook audience, an Instagram audience, a Twitter audience, etc. But my team also works on developing audiences for our “Public Health on Call” podcast, growing our email newsletter subscribers, getting new readers for our School Magazine, attracting new website visitors, and more.
RK: How would you describe the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health social strategy?
NM: It’s changed a lot in recent years. From the time I joined the organization in 2013 through most of 2019, our social strategy looked a lot like the strategies you’d see at other higher ed institutions: news about our school, events we were organizing, new programs we’re offering, nice pictures of campus, etc.
But COVID forced us to pivot in two big ways. When we went remote, we lost the bread-and-butter of campus Instagram content: pictures of campus and what’s happening on it. That forced us to develop more illustrated and animated content. Also, COVID has been one of the most significant global health issues in world history, and we knew that if ever there was a time for the oldest and largest independent school of public health to step up, this was it. So we combined both of those aims—more original illustrations, and an urgent need for public health guidance—to land on the strategy we’ve been using since. That strategy focuses around two questions:
How do we share understandable, reliable public health information with people who could use it in their everyday lives?
And how do we make people want to share that content with their own networks?
Everything we do now ladders up to those two questions.
RK: I know shareability is an important metric for you and your team. What are some tips you have for making a post more shareable?
NM: People share things for a lot of reasons, but I think two of the biggest motivators are:
To signal to their friends that they hold certain beliefs, such as when your favorite sports team wins and you share the final score graphic—it’s like an identity signifier. “This is my team, see how great it is?”
To simply pass along something they find interesting or neat. How many times have you seen someone share a weird news story because the headline is arresting? Or a cute animal video? Those are just shared because they’re neat.
When we make content, we try to think about those two angles. We take it as a given that a lot of our followers—people who’ve opted to follow a public health school’s social media account—already agree with us on key issues like the benefits of vaccination. So we’re not trying to change our followers’ minds about those issues; instead we’re trying to make content that they can share with their own networks because they already identify with it, and simply want us to give that viewpoint more validity, or say something in a way that’s convincing to others on their behalf. Similarly, a lot of people share our content just because they think it’s silly or neat.
At the end of the day, if it’s reaching more people than our own followers, both goals get us there.
RK: You have talked about "micro decisions" when crafting a post before and how they can affect the performance of a post—can you talk to me about what some of those are?
NM: These can be as basic as a little Easter egg you throw into the background of a graphic—for instance we had a post about the benefits of wearing a mask, and one of the images was about how you didn’t have to pretend to smile during conversations you found boring. For the image we drew a guy wearing a shirt that says “BITCOIN EXPERT” talking to a woman who was wearing a mask to cover their disinterested face. The shirt was the Easter egg—it was a tiny detail, not at all important to the post’s overall message, which was about masks, but it motivated people to either comment on the post to laugh about it, or share the post with others in a “get a load of this” kind of way. Those little flourishes make big differences in engagement.
RK: I think there's a feeling that as brands on social become more ridiculous, it's harder for serious or educational content to perform well. I feel like your posts are really successful at being serious but with a wink. How do you think about humor and entertainment when it comes to educational content?
NM: Everything in moderation, right? But honestly my north star when it comes to humor on the brand account is “dad jokes.” I think brands get in trouble when they push the envelope too far beyond that level of humor. Puns, wordplay, witty or unexpected analogies…those all do great on social regardless of your brand’s line of work.
But when I see brands getting horny on main, I question how much of the short term bump to name recognition (people sharing it because they can’t believe it happened) is worth the long term risk of people just tuning them out or unfollowing the account because it’s so out there. For us, at the end of the day we are a school and we have some very important messages to share, so we do have to balance the urge to be very silly with the urge to maintain a certain reputation. I always tell members of my team: test it out on the group chat or Slack channel first. That’s the safe space for experimentation.
RK: What advice do you have for people who work in social media, specifically in a field where they are trying to communicate serious or heavy information?
NM: My pep talk to everyone who works in communications but especially social media is this: you are the expert in making messages fit the medium. You know what will work on platforms like Twitter and what won’t work on platforms like Instagram. You know that as deeply as any scientist knows their own line of research. So when a researcher comes to you and says, we need to say this in this particular way, you should feel empowered to ask, but what if we said it this way instead? It’s not always the case, and I understand when it is the case, but often I see communicators defer entirely to subject matter experts—even on matters that have nothing to do with their expertise.
I don’t want graphic design input from a microbiologist any more than they want my ideas on how to keep their labs clean. People working in social media should always remember that their job isn’t to parrot what others tell them to post, but rather to work with others to translate or adapt serious or dense information into formats that will work on these platforms.
RK: Any final thoughts?
Thanks for having me, it’s been a real pleasure to put down in writing some loose thoughts that I hadn’t fully baked. I really appreciate the opportunity to do so! Also, if anyone reading this ever wants to reach out directly to talk more, please feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some new jobs on the Link in Bio job board! Including a very special one with a certain former co-worker of mine!
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