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Developing and Executing a Senior Living Social Media Strategy

Tessa Atkinson-Adams, Communications Associate, LeadingAge

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In today’s more digital world, social media communication is a hot topic for senior living organizations. Whether you’re using it to keep in touch with residents/families or to generate leads for your organization, or plan to, this podcast episode is for you.

Our guest, Tessa Atkinson-Adams from LeadingAge, shares how to get started and plan your social media communications, the value of a style guide, some best practices, and much more.

Are you wondering how you can make your senior living social media more effective and run smoothly? You’ll enjoy this episode.

How do your marketing and sales activities stack up to other communities?


Rick: Hello and welcome to the Senior Care Growth Show, where senior care and senior living sales and marketing leaders go to grow. Today we are going to be talking to Tessa Atkinson-Adams, who is the communications associate at LeadingAge. You might recognize Tessa if you were at the LeadingAge annual meeting in Philadelphia this year. She was on a panel discussing social media, and she’s here to talk to us today about creating and implementing a social media strategy.

Welcome Tessa.

Tessa: Thanks. Thank you for having me.

Rick: Absolutely. Thanks for being here. So, let’s start with a little bit of an introduction. Why don’t you tell our listeners a little more about you and what you do at LeadingAge?

Tessa: Yes. So, I’ve been with LeadingAge for almost four years now in the communications department, and during that time … For most of that time I’ve been managing the social media accounts, and LeadingAge when I started, had a very passive social media tactic where we wanted to be on social media, but we weren’t putting a lot of focus on it.

And then when I got in I started to increase the consistency and start to think about our strategy, and then I completed a social media management certificate through Georgetown University, which helped a lot. And then from there we’ve really just increased everything. Our followers, our visibility, and we’ve created our own social media awareness campaigns on different issues, such as building awareness around long term services and support, but specifically targeting millennials.

We’re also going to be doing an ageism awareness week in a couple weeks. So, we’ve experimented with different styles of content. Practiced Facebook Live, practiced putting podcasts on our social, webinars, etc. So, we’ve tried a lot and we’re trying to really use social media as a place to build awareness around LeadingAge, and aging services issues.

Rick: Nice. Yeah, that’s awesome. Awesome experience. That’s good that you are doing some experimenting and trying some new things. I want to start today with some trends that you’re seeing around the senior living industry today. Do you find that most senior living and senior care communities are active on social media? What are they doing well, and what mistakes are they making?

Tessa: So, I see a real range. I do, when I can, try and follow as many of our members as possible. And so, I like to go through and like, and retweet, and repost as much as I can, our members’ content. And so, some of the things that I see, there’s obviously a lot of promoting the organizations themselves, which is good to use social media as a place to market and reach new audiences.

There’s also a lot of sharing of residents, which is also wonderful because from my perspective in my job, getting … One of our goals is to really get the true stories of aging out there, and not the stereotypes. And so, having more of that out there is great.

And then another way that organizations are using social media is to build connections with the community, and those are also the stories I really love. Like, building intergenerational programs and connecting on social through that. And then, let’s see … Your other question was … So, I tend to see organizations usually with at least one platform, and then maybe two.

So, usually it’s either Facebook or Twitter, or both of those. Sometimes Instagram, but … And then the activity level really ranges. So, you have people who are very active on social, and then there are also organizations that maybe post once or twice a month. So, it definitely ranges, but I think it’s increasing. And I think it’s really important for anyone who wants to … Any organization that wants to be on social media when you get started, to make a plan of how often you can commit to posting, because to stay relevant and to stay higher in the …

Rick: So, really just to kind of stay top of mind I guess, with people in the community that are following the different organizations right?

Tessa: So, well, not just to stay top of mind, but actually to stay in the top of the algorithm. That’s the word. The algorithms, the Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Twitter use, you need to have engagement and people interested in the page, because if you don’t then you actually get ranked down in the algorithm. And so, if you post less often then your post might not get as much reach because you’ve been sort of lower ranked in the algorithm of what people are seeing.

Rick: Yeah, you know one of the things we just discovered as we did our State of Marketing and Sales in 2019, as we look forward, we notice that digital is becoming a lot bigger … A lot bigger in that mix of marketing and kind of overtaking traditional in terms of what organizations are doing, and social media’s certainly a part of that.

Do you know, or have any sense for how many times communities should post? What should their schedule look like? Does it really matter how much someone post to social media?

Tessa: So, I would say at the bare minimum for … At the bare minimum you want to be doing once a week. Just so you have that consistent touch point, and you’re keeping your page updated, but It would be great to even do two to three times a week. But on the flip side for maximum levels, I would not recommend doing more than three posts a day on Facebook or LinkedIn, because then people start to unfollow or you know … It gets a little overwhelming for your followers. Twitter though, is like … That’s like … What’s the metaphor? It’s something like, Twitter is like a fire hydrant. It just spraying all those Tweets and all that content.

So, Twitter, you can Tweet as much as you like. I do recommend to not post on the hour. Like, when you schedule tweets or posts, that’s a common time most people post. So, like if you’re going in and you’re scheduling things ahead of time, do it at an odd minute. So, 11:17, or like 3:35 or something off so you’re not getting scheduled at a popular time that a lot of people are using.

Rick: Yeah, you know that’s great advice that I actually haven’t heard before. When we schedule social posts we usually do it at 1:06 PM or some odd time like that, but I didn’t really … Hadn’t really thought about why we did that, but I just thought that, that might be a little bit better than on the hour. But I’ve never actually heard someone say that you should post at an irregular time like that. That’s really good advice.

Tessa: And also evenings are really good. Like, when I go in and look at when our followers are on social, we get such a high bump. I think our most trafficked time is 9:00 PM. So, really think about scheduling for later in the day, because when you get those posts, and once you post, I mean the algorithms, the platforms you sort of play with the timing, but it gets pushed down in peoples feed, just like your feed.

So, you want ideally to put your post up when most people are on there, because if they come in and they’re looking at their feed an hour later it’s probably pushed down already.

Rick: Yeah, and to underscore one thing that you said too, I think that the life of a message is going to be a little bit different from channel to channel too.

Tessa: Yes, that’s true.

Rick: Yeah, Facebook posts might last a little bit longer, have a longer duration or might be visible a little bit longer than a message on Twitter would be.

Tessa: Yeah, Tweets go by really fast.

Rick: Yeah, minutes. I mean, the lifespan of a message on Twitter is minutes.

Tessa: Yeah.

Rick: As you’ve worked with senior living communities on their social media, who do you find is actually doing the work to post, and to follow up, and to monitor social media?

Tessa: So, I’d say it really varies. There’s such a range in size of communities and organizations, and what types of positions that they have. I have talked to people who work at organizations that do have a communications team, and if there is a communications team then communications has it, which is good. There have been some that it is the marketing team, but I’ve even seen organizations where it’s … They put it in … Under the directive of the recreation department, or activities coordinator. So, it kind of varies.

I think that wherever it’s housed, the important thing is that there has been a discussion beforehand about the language and style that you want to portray, and whoever is writing and posting is trusted to speak on behalf of the organization, because the truth is, these social media posts, they get … They spread and you’re putting that message out to a very wide audience, which is good, but at the same time you want to, just like with any other communication, that you’re putting out press releases or whatnot. You want to have the same level of intention and branding behind those posts that you do in any other type of communication.

So, whoever is posting should definitely be someone that understands the organization’s tone, and voice, and is able to react and represent the organization.

Rick: Yeah, so that probably would be someone in marketing, or someone in communications who really understands the brand messaging. You know, another point that we found in our study for 2019 is that differentiation is just so important for senior care and senior living organizations. And having that professionalism, or having that message established ahead of time will help as people are posting to social media.

So, do you think that … Who do you think should be running those social campaigns? Do you agree that it should be sort of, a communications and marketing function? I know a lot of organizations have to find that person, because it’s not something that they naturally think of, and it ends up getting stuck with maybe the person who’s the most digital savvy in the room.

Tessa: Yeah. So, I think that communications and marketing is definitely a natural fit, but like I said, there are a lot of smaller organizations that don’t necessarily have their own communications or marketing team. So, I think what’s important is, one, to make sure that the plan for social media is incorporated into the strategic plan for the entire organization’s communications, and so … In part of that, making that plan, you want to have a point person. That’s really the key thing, is to have someone who is the point person who can make the calls, who maybe can … So, like I said I manage our social media accounts, but I do have a couple people that I ask to do certain parts of it, but I’m still making sure … Making sure that everything that’s going out is sort of following how we want to portray, and how we want to talk about the issues and LeadingAge.

But the important thing is that it’s … One, there is a single point person. Two, that you are evaluating. Like you mentioned looking at analytics and seeing how things are doing, because like I mentioned before in the consistency and getting engagement on your posts affects your algorithm. So, that is true with when you do your content.

So, for example we tend to not post our webinars on Facebook, because they would get very, very low engagement. So, we use Twitter and we use LinkedIn, and they do really well over there, but if we continued to do them on Facebook then that hits us in the algorithm. So, we want to make sure that when we look at the content … Like, let’s say every month. And see which ones were not doing very well. Was it a one off? Or is it a pattern? And if so, maybe that type of content isn’t going to work for that platform.

Rick: Yeah, those are all great points. All great points. I want to turn our attention a little bit to content of social media and what organizations should be putting on social media. So, just based on your experience how should senior living and senior care communities be using social media? What are some best practices? And what should they be putting on social media?

Tessa: So, I think it’s definitely a combination of things. We had, in the panel that you mentioned that was at the LeadingAge annual meeting, we had two member organizations talk about how they were using social, and they … And it was very interesting. I mean, they’re definitely using it a lot for marketing. So, social media is such a great space to … Really, you have this opportunity to market your organization for not that much cost. Sometimes when I boost … Or, you know boost is to add some funding behind a post. I’ll only do like $20.00 and it increased the engagement. You know, by like two, three fold.

You can do a lot for not very much cost. So, definitely marketing the organization, because you can also target … When you do marketing you can target who you want to see it and whatnot, but also it’s such a great space to build community. So, posting photos with permission, of residents, stories of staff. I would love to see more stories of staff on social, because that’s such an important aspect of aging services, that is one of our focuses, is attracting more people to the workforce.

And so, getting staff profiles, staff engaged with residents. You know, why are they passionate about their jobs? Would be great, but then also it’s a great place to, like I said connect with the community. So, going in and showing when other groups come in, and engage with the organization is wonderful. If anyone comes and visits, or if you have another organization that you are mentioning, definitely be sure to tag them so that you’re getting that reciprocity of followers, because not only … Or, of … Not necessarily followers. Of your reach. So, you can reach new audiences when they tag you, and you tag them.

So, it’s just this sort of exponential tactic.

Rick: Yeah, you know I came across an organization earlier this year, and they had highlighted one of their staff members who won an award. And to really showcase this, they created a video. They made a video and it looked like a professionally produced video, but what they did is they interviewed the caregiver, and they also interviewed the people that were getting the care.

Tessa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rick: So, you heard from the actual person, the staff member at this organization who won the award, and you heard from the people that they took care of, and how that person changed their life.

Tessa: That’s great.

Rick: And I think that was really powerful because it got a lot of play on social media, but it’s something that they could also repurpose and use on their website. And it also … It’s more than just telling, it’s having someone tell the story for them, as opposed to having them tell the story in words.

Tessa: Videos and photos do so well on social. Yeah. If you’re posting just an article I recommend finding a photo to put with it, because it just definitely increases the engagement having that. I think that social media definitely has become very, very visual. So, you need … I really recommend doing as much photo and video as you can.

The videos, short.

Rick: Yeah.

Tessa: People don’t have a long attention span on social. So, you need less than three minutes.

Rick: Yeah, and video can be intimidating.

Tessa: Yeah.

Rick: Because I think a lot of folks think it needs to be professionally shot, and it needs to look professional, but we do a lot with just an iPhone.

Tessa: Me too.

Rick: Yeah, I do a lot with the iPhone. The Facebook Live I’ve done with the iPhone several times. I think what’s the most important for Facebook Live, which had a little snafu at the annual meeting actually, is making sure you have a good internet connection. That’s what’s really important.

Tessa: I couldn’t get to the internet when I was supposed to do Facebook Live, and I was like, “This is not good.”

Rick: WI-FI is so important when you’re doing Facebook Live or Instagram stories, or things like that.

If we have some marketing professionals listening today that haven’t really started an active presence on social media, or maybe they’ve been a little apprehensive to get started. How would you recommend that they actually get started with that?

Tessa: So, if you’re just getting started I definitely recommend starting with one. So, pick one platform. I would probably for senior living, if your target audience is older adults and maybe their children, I would recommend Facebook, because that’s definitely most of those age demographics are on Facebook. And it’s just such a nice visual place for your profile page. You know, you have the cover photo and the image, and you can put a lot in the about you. Whereas Twitter you’re very limited on how much information you can share, because they’re all about keeping those characters tight.

But I would definitely recommend Facebook and then like I said, coming up with your plan about how you want to … What type of tone and language. Facebook and social media in general is more conversational. It’s not going to be as formal as certain communications, but I do recommend deciding on where that line is in the informality. So, for example, are you going to use emojis? You know? We don’t. That’s a line that I’ve drawn for LeadingAge. We’re not going to be an organization that uses emojis, but you want to come up with that level of detail on how you want to present your posts, but then the next plan I think would be, who’s your audience? You know? And make sure that the types of posts that you want to … And the content of your posts are things that would appeal to that audience so that you are reaching the people that you want to reach.

And then like I said, coming up with a calendar. So, one easy way to kind of get started is just come up with just a little grid that has maybe a month’s worth of spaces for posts, and then just start pasting in your articles or putting in your photos. Then you can also decide what time, what day you want to send these. And then also that gives you an opportunity to look at that, that you are varying your posts, that you didn’t … You’re not going to post something twice by accident, and you can also come back and mark after the posts have been up for a day or two, if it did well or not.

And it’s going to start slow. I mean, if you’re just starting you’re going to have zero followers. So, it’s … Probably you’re going to want to promote it in your newsletter, in your direct emails, maybe on the cork boards around the community. You know, wherever you are already communicating, add a little piece that you just started a Facebook page. Definitely put it on your website. You know, just … We do that every so often when we want to reach one of our next level of follower amounts. We’ll be like, “Hey, help us get to 5,000 followers on LinkedIn.” And send that out in our newsletters, and whatnot.

So, definitely think of the other places where you communicate, or also places where you can start to pull people into social.

Rick: Yeah, I think you can use … Like, the calendar’s a great point. And I think using Excel for that could be something that’s easy. It’s a tool that you already have in your arsenal.

Tessa: Yeah.

Rick: And you can just plan, like you say, you just put in what day you’re scheduling those messages so you have even coverage across the calendar. You can even get as sophisticated as what type of content. So, if you want to post a video a week, or if you want to post a link somewhere else, to something that might be helpful for someone as they’re thinking about communities and what’s right for them.

You can really start to get into topic based, or category based, as well as figuring out an even distribution for those messages.

Tessa: And it doesn’t all have to be new. You can definitely … Especially if you’re just starting, you can pull in all this content that you’ve had for years even, and use that so, it’s a little bit less pressure of like, “Oh, I need to find something. A new photo each week.” You can pull in stuff from the past.

Rick: Yeah, so if anyone follows us on social media they’ll see that we advertise, or we talk about the podcast multiple times. So, we’re actually recording a podcast and we’ll publish one social message when it comes out, and one a week later, and one three weeks later. And so, we can promote that for … really forever. It’s evergreen content.

Tessa: Yes.

Rick: As long as what we talk about is still relevant. And so, if you have an article on your website, or if you have a helpful guide on your website and you want to use that as content for social media, you can publish that and schedule that out well into the future, and not worry about that getting stale.

We certainly do that.

Tessa: Yeah.

Rick: And we also choose to publish different messages about that same thing.

Tessa: Yes. Absolutely. Because, like we were saying how content has a short … Relatively short life in people’s feeds. You can definitely, if there’s something very important that you want to make sure that people see, you know, definitely like you’re saying, post about it. I’ll do like … Maybe like once a week. And yeah, change the message, but it’s the same article, or it’s the same thing that we’re trying to direct people to do.

Rick: Yeah, that article might have five main points. And so, you can use each of those points as a message, which leads back to that article.

Tessa: Yes.

Rick: To get people back to the site. I know that one … Kind of switching gears a little bit. I know that one reason that marketers shy away from social media is because of anxiety about negative comments, and just negativity. And possible complaints or things like that. What advice would you have for communities that have to deal with negative comments? Or negative posting on social media channels?

Tessa: So, I think there’s a couple levels of degree, because the sort of … The basic level, if it was just like a single comment that nobody else is reacting to, or maybe just one or two other people like it or something. The best practice is to ignore it, because like we’ve just talked about, post and comments, they have a short shelf life on social media. And you know, bringing attention to it is what’s going to extend the life of that.

And also, social media just like any other public space, is free speech. So, people can say anything that they would like. Another important thing to do is have a little … We don’t have one, but I need to make one. Have a little sort of social media policy blurb in your profile that just details the policy for social media of users. So, what is the defining line for when a comment will be deleted, or a person will be blocked.

So, that’s definitely an extreme measure so, it needs to be pretty bad for you to delete or block someone, because like I said, it’s a free speech arena. I don’t think that it’s been … I think there’s been a couple of cases that I have heard about, of sort of some crisis communications that needed to happen at our member organizations, but by and large it hasn’t been something … An issue that has percolated ever, that we’ve heard about.

I think if something starts to get traction, and the negative comments are about something that you can refute, or defend, or say that you’ll do better on, or whatnot, comment. That’s the really great thing about social media is that you do get to have … You do get to directly communicate with people quickly and instantly. And so, if it’s something that is starting to pick up a little steam, decide on a reaction that you can post right there on social media.

Rick: Yeah, some good advice I heard too is to get legal counsel involved when you talk about a policy for posting.

Tessa: Yes, absolutely.

Rick: Because, when you deal with someone posting someone’s name as a comment on one of your social posts, or on your page it’s good to have that policy in place and know where the line is before it actually happens.

So, I thought that was good advice too, that I thought I’d share. Well, Tessa it’s been awesome to talk to you. If people want to get in touch with you to ask you a question, not that I want to blow up your inbox or anything, but where can they find you? Because I’m assuming you’re on social media too?

Tessa: Yeah. I definitely am on LinkedIn, that’s a good space to message me on LinkedIn. Tessa Atkinson-Adams. But I’m also on the … Of course on the LeadingAge website where you’re able to find me.

Rick: Awesome. Well, Tessa thank you!

Tessa: Thank you so much for having me.

Rick: Yeah, thanks so much for sharing your expertise today. I learned a lot. I hope our audience, our listeners did too.

Before we wrap up this episode, I wanted to tell you about a new digital audit that we’re offering. During this process we’ll review your total online presence from your ratings and reviews, to your search engine visibility. From your websites, to your advertising, and then we’ll put it all together as a report and give you several ideas to improve your marketing and sales so you can increase your occupancy.

If you’d like some more information on that audit all you have to do is go to And that about wraps up another episode of the Senior Care Growth Show, where senior care of sales and marketing leaders go to grow. We’re coming to the end of the year so I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season, and let’s go make 2019 great. See you next time.

More info: Get a Digital Marketing Audit for your Organization

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