How to Design Messages Like a Facebook Content Strategist

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Every time you log into Facebook, you’re greeted by a Simple, Straightforward, Human voice that provides notifications, guidance and all of the value words in your Newsfeed:



On Instagram, the voice delivers unobtrusive teachings and notifications (i.e. the tiny notification hearts to let you know how loved you truly are) that are highly visual, and equally as simple and straightforward:


The directors of both teams recently visited the USC Annenberg Career Development Office to host a private workshop for select Communication, Journalism and Public Relations students, freely divulging their guiding methodology*. If you want to expertly design a message for your audience, follow their Unambiguous Advice:

1. Answer

Facebook Content Strategists ask a bunch of questions and answer them:
WHO is the audience?
WHY are you delivering the message?
WHAT is the point you want to relay?
WHERE will they see it?
WHEN (in the UX flow) will it appear to them?
WHICH container will the message live in (banner, button, caption, ad copy, etc.)?
HOW will you convey your message (what tone do you plan to employ)?

2. Design

Plot the user journey. Project how they will feel/what they will think at each step:
RE: Accepting a Facebook Invite
(Jill is invited to Jerry’s party. She gets a notification. This may make her nervous, excited, happy. She has to RSVP *Interested*. She feels flaky, guilty, apprehensive. The event reminder rolls around. She feels like a bad friend.)

Use a four-quadrant approach. Successful messages will lie at the intersection of two of the following quadrants:

GENERIC: Provide general information about your topic
SOCIAL: Remind your audience of potential friend/family benefits
CONTEXTUAL: Make your topic personally relevant to your audience
UTILITY: Provide factual information about your topic

In the workshop, we used this approach to design messages for the USC Fisher Museum of Art:

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3. Test

Employ focus groups, surveys and A/B testing to determine the readability and effectiveness of your content. Instagram strategists often conduct usability sessions in which random users of Instagram are pulled to try out prototypes of products behind a two-way mirror while engineers and designers take note of their reactions and feedback.

Keep in Mind

Content Isn’t a Band-Aid

Not all UX problems can be fixed by bringing the content strategy team in at the back-end. Strategists should be invited during early stages of conception and planning as it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to roll out and perfect messages for each product. The earlier a strategist is brought in, the better the UX will be.

Content Isn’t One Size Fits All

From Business Checkout to Safety Check to Taking A Break From Someone, each product requires a specialized approach with different tests. To combat this, the team employs a four-quadrant approach, producing a variety of messaging along the Generic, Social, Contextual and Utility categories.

Content Isn’t Private

At Facebook, ideas are liberally shared before launch.With over 1 billion active users, even a 1% user test could have 20 million eyes on it within seconds. Therefore, the team believes that anything to go live should be seen by at least one other employee.

It’s mind-blowing to think that a team that didn’t exist over 5 years ago at Facebook (engineers wore many different hats but quickly doffed this one) is currently 30 members strong and growing. We all have the power to make the world more open and connected, and it starts with carefully planned content.

Does your team design and deliver messages in the same way?

Sound off in the LinkedIn Comments!

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*The methodologies cited above are derived from a presentation created by Facebook’s Erin Scime, delivered by Facebook’s Brynne and Lauren – Content Strategy.

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