Harnessing Twitter to Promote Health

the power of twitter

Twitter isn’t just for memes — it also offers the opportunity for healthcare providers to engage in discussions with potential patients, build personal brands, and promote healthy living.

 Twitter is often associated with celebrities or politics, but medical providers might be surprised by the platform’s robust health community. In recent years, Twitter has facilitated interesting, relevant conversations around a variety of healthcare topics, across a range of demographics. At the same time, Twitter gives HCPs a direct line of access to patients, many of whom turn to social media for advice.

Although only about a quarter of U.S. hospitals currently participate in social media, some 64% of those are on Twitter. If you’re not yet utilizing this platform, it may be time to ask if you’re missing out on some major advantages. Here’s how HCPs can benefit from building a presence on Twitter, from “listening in” to relevant conversations to reaching potential patients through branding.

Gain Insights With Social Listening

Twitter is one of the best platforms for finding out what people are talking about, right now — and that holds true for healthcare. When you’re on Twitter, you can “listen in” on conversations about nearly any topic, although comments about recent news events are typically the most prominent. There are some social media tools available that may help you catch trends through social listening on a large scale, but if you’re just getting started, you can begin by taking a look on your own.

The secret to social listening is to follow the right hashtags, which help mark relevant posts. For healthcare professionals or institutions, that can mean everything from #DigitalHealth to #MDChat and #HCSM (Healthcare Social Media). You should consider following conversations around your healthcare practice, competing practices, or relevant subjects. What are people saying about these topics? How do they feel? Twitter is where you can find out, fast.

It’s also crucial to note if people are talking about you or to you. Whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral — and especially if it’s a direct critique — take advantage of Twitter’s democratic structure, and reach out. If you respond transparently, in a professional, self-aware manner, no one will question why you’re jumping in. That’s just how Twitter is. In fact, many users appreciate that kind of personal attention, and it helps you regain some control over the conversation.

Promote Healthy Living to Potential Patients

Many people come to social media for healthcare advice or inspiration, and Twitter users are no exception. For a medical practice, sharing sound public health advice can be an appropriate strategy to gain followers, establish a positive brand, and counter much of the misinformation out there. Of course, that doesn’t mean diagnosing Twitter users — it means sharing reminders about flu season, healthy eating, and similar topics. You can even share articles about recent, vetted research, as long as it’s high-quality information.

As you establish your brand as a knowledgeable and trustworthy healthcare institution, always keep in mind that you’re speaking to potential patients. This is, in fact, a great opportunity, since you’ll be primarily reaching a self-selecting and enthusiastic group. Twitter is an especially powerful tool for targeting younger patients, a valuable market segment to get through the door — the company has suggested that some 80% of users are millennials.

Build Personal Brands

Healthcare practices should encourage their doctors to build strong personal brands, and Twitter is a great way to get started. Think about what a patient sees when they Google a doctor’s name — and the moment of connection they could have if they see a robust and interesting online presence, instead of just a basic bio or nothing at all. Of course, developing that presence is easier said than done, which is why doctors may be well advised to start with Twitter.

Despite the ongoing, rapid pace of content creation, Twitter is actually an easy way to take control of a personal brand. It limits the number of words you can write to 280 characters, and doesn’t take as much investment as a blog or other professional site. Of course, doctors should be sure to treat the platform as an extension of their professional life, and follow any guidelines the healthcare organization sets. It’s important not to divulge patient information, and better to stay away from inflammatory or controversial topics. At the same time, doctors can enrich their professional connections by following other physicians, healthcare institutions, scholars, and relevant organizations.

Getting Started with Twitter

For HCPs who haven’t been building their brands on Twitter, it’s not too late. Claim a professional “handle,” upload an appropriate photo, and follow relevant institutions and individuals. Then engage in social listening to understand the current discussions that could inform your social strategy. Once you start posting, using hashtags, and sharing quality advice, ideas, and announcements, you might be surprised at how easy it is to build a strong, respected brand.  

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