Twitter – the 20 second overview. Handles, tweets, and hashtags – Oh my! First, here is the essence of Twitter. To use Twitter, you create a personal identifier called a “handle”. The handle is always preceded by the ‘@’ symbol. For Hands On Telehealth, the handle is @handsontel. When you “tweet,” you share a message about whatever you want in 140 characters or less. Your tweet can be seen by your “followers,” i.e. people who have decided to follow your tweets. Your tweet can also be seen according to any hashtags (e.g. #telehealth , #telemedicine) that you want to include with your tweet (e.g. “This is a big year for #telehealth”). People can just search a hashtag and follow the tweets related to it. And of course, since this is social media, you can also follow other people / organizations or track hashtags. Why does Twitter matter? The fact is that there is increasing worldwide adoption and usage of Twitter, even in healthcare. Without a doubt, a lot of people consume and share information through Twitter. The reason Twitter is so popular is that users can quickly scan through recent tweets, which really amount to headlines designed to grab your attention, and figure out what they want to share, respond to or explore further. From a business perspective, the tweets you post on Twitter have one of the following goals:
All of these general goals can be applied to telehealth, and we’ll explore just a few of them. In addition, we’ll also look at some very specific ideas that can apply to telehealth alone. How can you use Twitter for telehealth? Here are some examples. You can discover more just by following the Twitter hashtags for #telehealth or #telemedicine. 1. Increase visibility for a product, service, or event A tweet can include a headline for a press release or product announcement. The link could take people to a web site where they can learn more about a product or service. A telehealth program could announce a new clinical service. A telehealth vendor could talk about a product. An association could publicize its upcoming event. The example tweet below shares an article related to the Royal Society of Medicine’s upcoming conference. RoyalSocietyMedicine (@RoySocMed) How can #telecare & #telehealth address long term conditions & social care needs? 26 – 27 November http://ow.ly/dG8V3 2. Publicize results & outcomes A tweet is an effective way to quickly share results that may be of interest to your followers, be they patients, providers, payors, or other parties. You can even attach pictures to your tweets so that readers can see them along with the tweet. 3. Content distribution When using a content marketing strategy, e.g. with blogs, white papers, videos, you can share links to that same content through Twitter. The idea here is that you are giving people yet another way to become aware of (and even consume) the great content you are creating. A multi-channel strategy is important because some people may prefer to access their info from Twitter versus alternatives such as surfing web sites, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Again, this strategy makes sense for any telehealth professional or organization who is a content creator. 4. Breaking news or promotion An example could be a telehealth vendor reaching a particular milestone like their 100th customer or 1,000th consult. Another example could be for a special deal on a product or service, e.g. “telemedicine carts available at a 30% discount when you go to the following link.” 5. Reminders and health tips to patients A rural hospital that provides a telestroke service could educate its community about stroke through a link distributed via Twitter (among other tools). 6. Updates about patients? Surgery suites are now using Twitter to update a patient’s family on the status of a surgical procedure. This is a great tool for enabling the family to have access to timely information while in the waiting room. I don’t know exactly how this works, particularly from a HIPAA / privacy / security standpoint, but the fact is that it is being done, and I trust that they have figured out the security issues. So if they have, the same concept could be expanded to certain types of telehealth consults, particularly those where a patient has to be transferred to another facility. Imagine a patient goes into a rural ER for trauma and has to be transferred to a tertiary care facility. Wouldn’t it be powerful for the tertiary care facility to leverage Twitter to update that patient’s family members, the rural facility’s ER, or even the EMS personnel that brought them in on the patient’s condition and status?
Now for some best practices. Twitter Best Practice #1: Tweet multiple times for visibility The difference between Twitter and other commonly used social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube is that Twitter is like a “drive-through”. People “drive by” their Twitter feeds at differing times and frequencies. Some people check Twitter all day long, others once a day, others once a week, and still others hardly ever. So even if people are following you, if you post a tweet at 11am Monday morning EST, if they “drive by” on Tuesday at 6am (or even Monday evening at 6pm), they are unlikely to see your feed. Ever. So with Twitter, it’s OK to post the same tweet spaced apart several times during the week. Of course, if you’re going to tweet about something of real-time interest, like Michael Phelps winning his 19th gold medal, tweeting a few days after the fact won’t make sense. Twitter Best Practice #2: Follow others and retweet their tweets This tip does not apply if you’re a “celebrity” in your industry (or beyond) like Kevin Pho (@kevinmd) or U2’s Bono (@BonoVox_). Most of us are not that well known. So when you do build up a group of followers, realize that while some of them are fans of your work, some of them are also using Twitter to gain visibility or advance an idea. This means you want to be social! Don’t always tweet about yourself / your organization. People will eventually tune out of your one-way conversation. Share what others are sharing. Retweet their tweets. When you see articles you like, tweet them. It’s not all about you. Lose your ego! You’ll find it works better in the social sphere. Twitter Best Practice #3: Have a Twitter publishing strategy Unless you have a legion of fans that hinge on your every word or thought, the idea of randomly tweeting whatever crosses your mind is a major misinterpretation of this medium. You need to look at Twitter as a publishing medium, and have a real strategy associated with it. The smartest tweeters will even have a strategy around their seemingly random thoughts. Twitter Best Practice #4: Simplify your work with tools There are numerous tools now to help you manage your social media accounts. They help you schedule posts so you don’t have to be present to post at specific times. Examples: Hootsuite, TweetDeck They help you keep an eye on who’s talking about you. Example: Topsy They provide dashboards to simplify your view and management of multiple social media channels. Example: HubSpot Final thoughts Once you open yourself to the idea, there are many ways to use Twitter to advance your telehealth solution. By employing the best practices above, you can make Twitter a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal.
What is your experience with using Twitter for telehealth? Please share your comments below.
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