15 – Correspondence

Social Media

Matt McKinney

Every business and professional organization works to cultivate some kind of social media presence, often using a variety of different platforms. While each of these platforms have their own unique conventions, technical and professional correspondence on social media has some characteristics that are generally applicable:

  • There is much more competition for your audience’s attention. Unlike emails, letters, and other forms of correspondence, social media posts are usually not self-contained. They exist in feeds alongside countless other posts, all vying for active engagement from users. Consequently, getting your audience’s attention quickly is paramount compared to other forms of correspondence.
  • Your audience is public, not private. Most organizations do not apply filters to their posts, meaning anyone with an account on the social media platform can see the message, and there is an increased likelihood that a post will be screen-shotted or shared widely. Because of this, effective social media correspondence is positive, and private user inquiries, complaints, or concerns should be publicly welcomed but shifted to private channels.
  • Casual tone and diction are more acceptable. Because you want to stay positive and get your audience’s attention, stylistic choices that would normally be less acceptable in technical and professional correspondence (e.g. all-caps, emojis, and exclamation points) are much more practical here. This is especially true if you are addressing a younger audience.
  • Messages tend to be shorter, and contain multiple forms of media. The competition for engagement, the public nature of the correspondence, and the emphasis of casual tone all entail that the shorter and more reader-friendly the message, the better. Photos, memes, gifs, and (short) videos are even more eye-catching than text, so often your correspondence should center on these.

Common Social Media Platforms

The following are some of the most common social media platforms technical and professional communicators engage in. Note the different purposes, audiences, and conventions within each platform, and keep in mind that new platforms emerge frequently.

  • Facebook. The oldest and most ubiquitous social media platform still in use, Facebook is an important platform for most professional organizations. It is primarily used by an older audience, is more text-heavy than other platforms, and also allows for the creation of groups, where users can form and join communities focused on shared interests.
  • Twitter. The primary characteristic of this platform is its 280 character limit. Naturally, messages here are extremely concise, and it’s usually more effective to focus posts on visual media, hashtags, and embedded links.
  • Instagram. This platform favors shorter messages than Facebook, and focuses more on photographs and stories (i.e. posts that are temporary, more frequently updated, and almost entirely visual). Instagram is used by a younger audience than Facebook and Twitter as well.
  • Snapchat. This platform is also used primarily by younger audiences, with an increased emphasis on stories rather than permanent posts. It is best suited for advertisements and promos.
  • LinkedIn. While most platforms often contain personal content, LinkedIn focuses purely on a person’s or organization’s professional credentials; it is almost analogous to a digital business card and ongoing networking event. Users post their work history, skill sets, and demonstrate engagement with current events in their professional communities. Interactions between users also focus solely on professional exchanges, like endorsing someone’s skill set, extending your professional networks, or posting and responding to job ads.
McKinney, Matt, Kalani Pattison, Sarah LeMire, Kathy Anders, and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt, eds. Howdy or Hello?: Technical and Professional Communication. College Station: Texas A&M University, 2020. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.