'The Tone That We're Putting Out on Social... Changes'; American Physiological Society Listens, Shifts and Sees the Dividends

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by Ronn Levine

At the top of the American Physiological Society Facebook page, two young women look over an APS guide at an event. The words, “empowering discovery to improve health” stand out over the photo. I know that this is not a Getty Images photo for two reasons: 1) by enlarging the photo, I can see the words, “Thank You to APS Strategic Partner” on the back of the book. And 2) because Stacy Brooks, director of communications and social media for APS and editor of their magazine, confirmed their strategy on Tuesday’s exceptional AM&P Lunch & Learn - Strategies for Socializing Your Association's Content:


“We had three [large, in-person] meetings cancelled this year in addition to our annual meeting," she said. "We have a strategy where we use our members as our stock photography. So missing those in-person events has been really difficult for us to kind of bounce back from the missed places that we could have photo opportunities.”


Lilia LaGesse, senior creative strategist, GRAPHEK, also advised this at AM&P 2020. “It’s always nice to feature the faces of your members and [worth the effort] tracking down those photos,” she said. It’s clear right away that APS gets this and a lot more right—as an example of an association taking in the emotions and off-kiltering ways of a pandemic and adjusting its gameplan.


“We’re tweaking our tone and our content to adapt to our members’ moods and really listening and echoing to where they are,” said Brooks, who was joined by Karl Boehm, digital & social marketing strategist for Spiral Marketing. “The tone that we're putting out on social has been something that we've had to really continue to work on because it changes. [Our members] don't feel the same today as they did a couple of months ago. We want to make sure that we're picking up on those subtleties and reflecting it in what we're putting out into our social spaces.


“And then, kind of mourning those missed opportunities to connect with our members.”


Brooks was eloquent in describing a situation that every association is confronting. She said that social media, in particular, has taken on another role during this time, becoming a sort of listening chamber for association personnel to overhear and then adjust.  


“You know your members are in crisis, your annual meeting as ours may have been cancelled; you might have had budget cuts that you were dealing with. But you're also simultaneously being expected to innovate and provide more resources and prove and reprove that member value,” Brooks said.


“Since the beginning of the pandemic, one thing that has been kind of a relief is that social media was already a huge part of our work on my team. We've really been able to rely on our social feeds to be more informative for us and actually more important to us than ever. So unlike other areas that might be shrinking… your social footprint right now is likely expanding.”


Brooks said that the valuable feedback you need is there. “It's up to you to figure out how to use it, where to look and to read the tea leaves and understand better what your members want, need and expect from member associations in these unpredictable times.”


Despite everything, she said that the goals for their social feeds have not changed:

- grow their audience;

- engage better with members;

- promote the association, what physiology is and how it connects with the public;

- talk about initiatives;

- inform members more about what's going on in the business of science; and

- increase traffic to the website.

It’s a lofty agenda. And though these goals have not changed, associations must realize that social media user behavior has.


“From an organizational level, it's really been the type of content that we've been promoting that's really different from what we were doing earlier this year,” Brooks said. “Our editorial calendars have totally shifted or been blown up. And although that's not specifically related to social media, it feeds in because we're promoting the things that are turned out by the association and, for sure, my role in the magazine has completely changed.”


Brooks added that we have to check ourselves a bit and realize that our members may not have time to be “reading our dramatic and well-crafted prose right now. We just need to get them to where they need to go and really be mindful of not wasting their time.”


Like most associations, APS website traffic is way up, about 300,000 visits over their usual total. Brooks believes that people, in general, are using their social feeds more frequently now to connect. “They always were doing some of these behaviors, obviously. Twitter's notorious for people going on rants, but at the same time, I think more people who used to talk about professional things or more topical things really are trying to connect in a more meaningful way.”


And that can be any time of day or night now. “If you are using a scheduler to help with your content drip, then you might need to take another look at how people are engaging with social platforms and at what times during the day,” Brooks advised. She noted that their Facebook page sees more engagement over more days of the week. They’ve responded by keeping the posts relevant and frequent.


At the top of the page now sits this engaging post: “Kelsey Bayles, a senior in the bachelor of science in nursing program at the Mississippi University for Women, became infected with the coronavirus this summer. She shared her story with APS member Anberitha Matthews, PhD, in the latest post for the I Spy Physiology blog. Read it, share it and subscribe!”


APS has also found that by Fridays, members may want a bit lighter content, so that’s what they’re doing. If that makes Wednesdays and Thursdays a bit more concentrated then so be it. “That's a good thing to keep in mind that people are on at different times a day than they were even just a few months ago.”


They also found that members aren't always talking about business on APS social channels anymore. “It was really shifting to a more personal connection,” Brooks said. “And it gave us some great opportunities to engage with them on an individual level as opposed to just liking the papers that they had published in our journals or things that were more professional and less exciting, less personal.”


They also made sure to listen. If social media isn’t good for eavesdropping or catching up with an old friend, then what. “Social kind of filled that void for us,” Brooks said. “And another engagement opportunity that we found was a way to amplify what people were talking about on social in our print publication.” People collages became social exchange collages.


“So we really were looking at our news feed, [seeing] who was talking about what and how they were plugging into the conversations that were happening in the moment,” Brooks said. “And what would translate a month and a half or two months later into a good kind of snapshot on how people were doing. That was a nice benefit that really kind of saved us.”


They’ve also been a little more information-focused on their social channels, “realizing that people don't want just a quick reminder like check your inbox, because our newsletter came out today,” Brooks said. “Doing a little bit more to tease out what is in that newsletter to give people a reason to click has been part of the way that we've interpreted that for our social strategy.


“We've actually gotten more likes and retweets on this type of post and it reinforces that people do need us to do a little bit more curation.”


Brooks offered these final takeaways:

- Take a few minutes to review your social posting schedule and make sure you adjust based on how people are using social media today.

- Curate your content to save your members some time, even if it's just a little time. It's not about us. It's about them.

- Listen more and listen more carefully to what your members are talking about and where you can try to incorporate that in your content strategy.

- Find the opportunities to use your member-generated social content in other places. Let people see themselves reflected and show that you're listening to what your people are talking about.

- Give the people what they want; in the end it's about serving the audience. So making sure that you understand what they're looking for and are making those efforts in mindset and in action to provide the resources that they're looking for. That that's a win-win for everybody.

Ronn Levine is editorial director of SIIA. He can be reached at