I still encounter plenty of cynically raised eyebrows whenever I suggest that Twitter has become an essential tool for public health advocates. (If your eyebrows have just erupted into irritable twitches, please don’t stop reading).
Below, public health researcher Ben Harris-Roxas makes a strong case for the merits of Twitter in public health. Amongst other things, he has used it to establish Public Health Daily, a Twitter paper.
Also below is a summary of Twitter tools that may be of particular interest to public health researchers, compiled by Dr Fiona Martin of the University of Sydney’s Department of Media and Communications, for a recent seminar at the Sydney School of Public Health.
And at the very bottom of the post is a series of links to recent interesting articles about Twitter, including some advice from the Mayo Clinic – and a recent Twitter discussion asking whether the Jean Hailes Foundation is unduly medicalising women’s lives.
How Twitter has helped me
Ben Harris-Roxas writes:
There’s widespread skepticism about the value of social media in health circles, but also more widely. Incidents like Stephanie Rice’s ill-advised tweeting don’t help. But by allowing us to reach new audiences, and by being exposed to new ideas ourselves, Twitter may still be useful to health professionals.
Twitter lets people post messages and links in 140 characters or less. A message is known as a tweet and topics are indicated by using “hashtags”, such as #publichealth.
“Surely that’s mostly inane drivel,” you say. Well, in large part, yes. Twitter has over 145 million registered users. Only 5-10% are active on a regular basis, and only 10% of those are discussing professional topics, rather than personal ones. That still leaves 725,000 people from all around the world who are regularly sharing serious information.
One of the problems of using Twitter is that people join, follow a few B-grade celebrities, and then say “that’s it?”
The real value of Twitter come from finding people who share your interests and interacting with them, and that takes time.
To give you a sense how Twitter works take a look at the PublicHealth Daily. This page brings together popular tweets that have used the #publichealth hashtag. I set it up but I don’t curate it in any way – paper.li updates it automatically every day using links that anyone has shared on Twitter. If the idea of Twitter intimidates you this page might still be of use.
Public health in Australia has been innovative in its use of new information technologies for analytic purposes but often Flintstonian in our use of new communication technologies. Within professional circles, listservs and newsletter are still the dominant mode for communicating new ideas and information, technologies that already looked outmoded by the mid-’90s. Communication with the public is often done through mainstream media or social marketing.
We don’t want to discount the importance of these forms of communication due to their massive footprint, as I’ve argued before. The problem is that newspaper, radio and television audiences are becoming fractured and harder to reach.
Increasingly audiences also expect a degree of interaction, as they shift from passive modes of information reception to more active ones that involve sharing and commenting on information.
And this shift, from a form of passivity to activity, is often what health promotion messages are trying to achieve. It wouldn’t hurt us to model some of that behaviour in our public communication efforts.
Twitter has allowed me to:
- Expose an entirely different audience to public health ideas and my personal hobbyhorse, health impact assessment .
- Develop relationships with people in other disciplines such as land use planning, environmental science and international development, who work on the broader determinants of health.
- Ask the Premier questions about the implementation of the health reforms and receive an answer within 24 hours (both @KKeneally and @BarryOFarrell are avid and responsive Twitter users).
- Being invited to meet with some of the world’s great innovators in health communication at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- In general, move beyond broadcasting information to having discussions and changing some of my own thinking.
In short, social media’s not for everyone, and certainly not for every purpose.
The way people find and consume information is changing, and will continue to change. We need to be receptive to the idea of diversifying our modes of communication. Plan accordingly.
• Ben Harris-Roxas is a Research Fellow at the UNSW Research Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity. You can find him on Twitter @hiablog. Thanks to Malcolm Lewis (@lewismal) for discussing some of these ideas.
A guide to the Twitterverse
Dr Fiona Martin writes:
Below are links to valuable resources – the first on the most popular and effective ways to use Twitter – http://twitter.com and associated services, the second on how to use Twitter for research purposes. Thanks to @cward1e, julie_posetti, @KerrieAnne for adding to the list. If you get a tip on another useful service or tool just tweet me @frmartin.
How to get started:
Mashable Twitter Guide Book – http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/
How to get retweeted – http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/the-world/article/how-to-get-retweeted
Quick starts: add Twitter buttons to your web browser and your blog, add your twitter username to all of the public information you generate, alongside your email.
Manage your Twitter posts (desktop client applications):
Tweetdeck – http://www.tweetdeck.com/
Seesmic – http://seesmic.com/
Twhirl – http://www.twhirl.org/
Tweetie – http://www.atebits.com/tweetie-iphone/
Plus some suggestions for Androids http://hackaday.com/2010/07/12/top-5-twitter-clients-for-android-2/
And a great article from last year (ancient history in real-time web terms): http://mashable.com/2009/06/09/organize-twitter/
Finding other people:
Twellowhood – http://www.twellow.com/twellowhood/
Twitterel – http://twitterel.com/keywords/add
Tweetmondo – http://www.tweetmondo.com/
Image posting services
Twitpic – http://twitpic.com/
Twitxr – http://twitxr.com/
Pickchur – http://pikchur.com/
Finding trending topics:
Twitscoop – tag cloud visual representation of trending topics – http://www.twitscoop.com/
Twitterfall – http://twitterfall.com/
Trendsmap – geographic visualisation of trending topics (built in Australia!)
Tlists – for searching topic lists that important twitter users have curated – http://www.tlists.com/
Bitly – http://bit.ly/
Tinyurl – http://tinyurl.com/
Bookmarking and search services:
Delicious – http://delicious.com
Tweetmeme – http://tweetmeme.com/
Social Media management services:
Services which help you track and share content, and manage all your social media tasks from blog posts and tweets, through to user analytics
Netvibes – http://www.netvibes.com/en
Hootsuite – http://hootsuite.com/
USING TWITTER FOR RESEARCH
Setting up a conference stream:
Sometime what’s being said about a presentation is as revealing as the presentation. The ‘back channel’ is a record of people’s reactions, ripostes, and notes. Some even enthusiastic users tweet what speakers are saying for all those unable to attend.
How people are using Twitter during conferences: http:// lamp.tu-graz.ac.at/~i203/ebner/publication/09_edumedia.pdf
Backing up your Tweets:
Twitter is not only unreliable – it only keeps your tweets searchable for a week at most. So if you want to save tweets for future research the you will need to back them up or capture them in some way. This is important, for example, if you use a #keyword to tag conference posts. Here are some strategies:
Tweetbackup – http://tweetbackup.com/
Back Up My Tweets – http://backupmytweets.com
ReadWriteWeb article: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/10_ways_to_archive_your_tweets.php
Set up an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed to your newsreader program eg. Google Reader.
Saving conference streams:
Spend a week or two evaluating these:
Calais – semantic research tool
Carnegie Mellon computer scientist compares survey tools
And this interesting recent observation from Thomson Reuters:
If you are considering using Twitter in your research process, please read the ethical guidelines for online research produced by the Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR)
Some general links sourced by Croakey and contributors that may be of interest:
• The Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin has a useful overview of social media and public health
• A Twitter sceptic sees the light
• A Mayo Clinic tutorial on the potential for social media in continuing medical education
• Some tips for tweeting responsibly
• On Twitter, you can watch and participate in some illuminating conversations. If you missed the August 31 exchange betweeen author, commentator, ethicist and activist Dr Leslie Cannold and the Jean Hailes Foundation, it’s well worth a look.
Cannold kicked it off with this tweet (referring to a Jean Hailes Foundation event): Bum, I hate being medicalised! Jean Hailes, perimenopause, low libido & the apparently unfabulous forties.
In subsequent tweets, Cannold asked whether the speakers at the event had ties to pharmaceutical companies, and whether these were being declared.
One of the interesting aspects of the exchange was that the Jean Hailes Foundation responded – and so did a number of bystanders (including Croakey). A small example from a much larger revolution.