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Luke Harkness on posting with purpose

Hayat Rachi
Posted by Hayat Rachi on Jun 1, 2021 1:49:50 PM

Luke Harkness, Digital Media Comms Officer at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, chats with us about the importance of understanding the type of content your audience wants to read and outlines the effect that tone can have across various communications channels. Read on to learn more about posting with purpose. 


Why did you choose to pursue a role in digital communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance? 

To be honest, I was looking to get my foot into the professional workplace door and so decided to apply for a role as a Digital Comms Assistant at my local charity. I knew I could do social media, I had tried running a blog when I was young and I’d learned the basics of coding during university. All of these, I felt, gave me a good chance to get the job. 

It also helps that I’m fascinated by technology and everything ‘online’. This meant that I showed a passion in the interview and continued have continued to do so throughout my career. If you’re interested in what you do, doing training and learning new areas in it never feels laborious.

What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the digital communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?

I think you must be able to understand what people want to read. Understanding your audience and their interests is key in translating this across. If your audience is patients of a hospital (such as mine is) you’ve got to help them understand why your hospital is a safe and positive place to me. This can be expressed in many ways – promoting how great your staff are with their national awards or internal commendations; highlighting the innovative research and technology your hospital is taking part in or simply announcing figures that highlight the positive affect your hospital has on the community.

Being able to write obviously helps. Being able to articulate in different ways. If you’re writing for social media it needs to remain friendly and informal – if writing for internal comms for staff it needs to be slightly more passive and informative. When writing for the website it’s a mixture of both – you want to inform others of your place of work but not make them feel isolated with jargon.

What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out? 

The pandemic has certainly given digital comms members a challenge. Communicating to a public audience a transparent message about the affect the pandemic is having on your organisation is key. However – doing this in a way that doesn’t sound like the whole world is on fire and everyone should panic is crucial.

If we exclude talking about the pandemic (just for a minute) another challenge I’ve experienced in digital comms is the struggles of dealing with negative people on social media. Often, rather than taking the proper routes of complaining or dealing with the patient liaison team, they come straight through to our social media channels. Here we have to balance the line between remaining professional but also not giving any clinical advice and simply directing them in the right direction which can be especially difficult if the story or comment is either particularly distressing or concerning.

How is the role of digital communications perceived in your organisation? 

In all honesty, it has grown more important over the past few years. The website I manage, and our social media channels have really seen progress since I came in. There’s an understanding that there is now someone within the Communications team who wants to improve your pages on the website and to talk about your research story etc. I think there’s definitely still an underestimation of the importance of social media.

Specifically, our hospital has over 60,000 followers across all channels. I if my posts to social media weren’t always checked for the way they were written – we could end up in the local paper for writing a tweet that gives off a negative impression.

At React & Share, we’re obsessed with measuring our efforts to prove our worth to internal stakeholders - what measurements do you think digital comms teams should be presenting to their board?

Monthly I deliver a report to our board to provide the successes of our hospital. Within this, I provide our follower increase along with the stories or awareness posts that we’ve done that month that have done particularly well. Reach and engagement rate are two of the big notifiers of success. Though – as we all know with social media, it can be quite random as to what posts Facebook/Twitter choose to show.

What advice would you give to those at the start of their career in digital comms? 

I would advise them to do a bit of research into their audience. In your interview and within the first few weeks of your job, ask your peers and look into your followers to find out who you’re writing for. If you’re working on the website, remember that we’re in 2021 and writing in a very corporate and passive voice isn’t how to keep people on your page. 

When writing social media, don’t be afraid to use emojis to engage audience, always use imagery and make sure that everything you post has a purpose.

What do you think the secret of success is when working in digital communications? 

I’ve only been a digital comms professional properly for four years now, so maybe ask me again in another 20 years. However, I’m quickly learning and quickly realising what works and what doesn’t thanks to a passion for the subject and my luck of having a great team around me at my place of work.

The secret to success within digital comms and within any job is making sure you know it’s something you enjoy. If it’s something you’d do for free outside of work, it’s something you enjoy.

Topics: Communications