Message Content Best Practices

The following guide draws from the experiences of the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Kaiser Permanente, and Code for America's GetCalFresh project. 

1) The CDC’s Guide to Writing for Social Media 2012

Be Clear and Concise:

  • Use easy-to-understand language.
  • Catch the reader’s attention with a compelling lead that provides the most important information first.
  • Abbreviations are necessary in a 160-character message, but try to use them sparingly. Try to use commonly-understood abbreviations. 

Be Action-Oriented:

  • Have a clear call to action, encouraging people to take concrete steps.
  • Explain why the action is important.
  • Use strong verbs such as “learn,” “watch,” or “join.”

Be Useful and Relevant:

  • Send messages that are tied to current events, seasons, or observance days.
  • Provide concrete knowledge and additional resources.

Use Web Content as a Source of Material:

  • News articles, fact sheets, and FAQs are excellent sources of additional material.
  • Web content has often been developed, edited, and cleared through the proper channels.
  • Just be sure to rework your web content so it makes sense over text.

Customize your Texts:

  • The CDC asks users questions about themselves to better target their messages.
  • Questions include age, gender, health condition, subscriber’s role, and zip code.
  • Identify Yourself: You should always identify yourself in your text, so your subscribers know who the text is from.

Provide Access to More Information:

  • Include a phone number or URL in your message, so users can follow up.
  • Make sure all numbers are numerical and formatted, so readers can click to call.

2) CDC: Social Media Guidelines and Best Practices (2010), Sample Messages

Sample Messages:


"Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detector when u turn your clocks back on Nov 1; replace batteries if needed. Call CDC 800-232-4636 or http://m.cdc.gov."

"Cover cough & sneezes to protect others. Call CDC 800-232-4636 or http://m.cdc.gov for more info. Reply HEALTH QUIT to end."

"Spread the word! Tell friends & family to text 4HEALTH to 87000 to get these weekly H1N1 messages & impt health tips. Call CDC 800-232-4636 or http://m.cdc.gov"

"Thanksgiving is Nat'l Family History Day. Talk to UR family about health conditions that run in UR family. Learn more http://m.cdc.gov/family. CDC 800-232-4636"

3) Kaiser to Roll out Text Messaging Appointment Reminders (2009), Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned:

  • Generic appointment reminders are more effective than specific ones: Mammogram appointment reminders that specified the test had a 2.96 percent unsubscribe rate, for example.
  • Patients aged 13 to 17 years old and 18 to 24 years old have the highest opt-out rate probably because they know how to opt-out.

4) Additional Tips

  • Don’t have people draw inferences of what to do. Give them an action they can take. Ex.: “CalFresh (Food Stamps): You may stop receiving benefits at the end of the month. Questions? Call (555) 555-5555.”
  • Testing with users/recipients of text messages should occur at least twice prior to deployment.


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