Tweeting for Health in under 160 characters

What do you think when you see that little white bird? You know the one, the twitter bird. The internationally recognized symbol that means you can only tell the world what you want to say in 160 characters of less? Oops, my words are up.

The social media world is filled with long-winded posts, articles that flow for pages, and blogs that take hours to get through. Twitter on the other hand, is limited in how much you can write in a single page. It intentionally creates a barrier to writing more than a few sentences. What if you want to say more though? Especially in health, when issues are often complex, and take more than 160 characters to properly explain. Well, Twitter has basically shown that succinct, clear messages can a provide a whole new way to connect with your audience–and this applies to public health for well.

The Economist twitter page is one that I find particularly well done. When they post on health they usually write less than 5 words and accompany the post with an infographic–a picture which illustrates facts. (see below)

The strategy has clearly worked well, as they have 9.5 million followers and over 40,000 unique posts. What is about short phrases that catch people’s attention, and attract them to messages they wouldn’t normally wouldn’t stop and read? Is it the reduced times it takes to read the words? Is it the fact that the writer has to communicate the best part of what they are trying to say upfront? Or is it the fact that people are drawn to information that is easier for them to absorb?

Whatever the reason, twitter is a very useful tool for spreading complicated messages to the masses. But, this is completely contingent on it’s use. Twitter has shown to have less penetration in all demographics than Facebook which really emphasizes social connections, and Instagram which is completely based on images and pictures. Although Twitter isn’t going anywhere soon, the new generation is gravitating more towards other types of social media. According to Statisa, 84 percent of adults between 18 and 29 have an account on Facebook, while only 40 percent use Twitter. The above statistic puts Twitter as only half as popular as Facebook. In my opinion this is more likely due to the strong social based content on Facebook, and the more informative based content on Twitter. Twitter is more information facing, while Facebook is more about the individual user (and we know people are very interested in themselves). Regardless, a 40 percent usage rate is still very useful in spreading ideas and communicating messages.

Many healthcare organizations, public and private, as well as health-related news sources have recognized this and have a micro-blogging site like twitter. The most successful twitter accounts with the most followers seem to consistently use pictures in their posts to attract users and draw them, and then subsequently link them to the full article or information. I think this is a very useful strategy for incorporating social media and attracting a more diverse public audience.

References: Accessed July 2015.


5 thoughts on “Tweeting for Health in under 160 characters

  1. This is a great, brief comparison of Twitter and Facebook. A picture really is worth a thousand words and Twitter seems to have capitalized on that mantra, as you say health posts can be extremely effect with 5 words or less when accompanied by an info-graphic. I particularly like your title. Short, succinct, and relevant to your blog topic. Great read.

  2. Wonderful! The infographic idea is exactly right and I think we should be doing more with it in public health. But isn’t it 140 characters?

  3. Hi Jen, great post very informative comparison between Twitter and Facebook. Personally, I like Twitter more than Facebook since I can spend less time and obtain more information.

  4. Great post on a very interesting topic! You raise so many great points in the comparison between Twitter and Facebook. I think it would be easier to read if it were listed or bulleted out. Maybe play with that in your next blog post.

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