I Don’t Care What Kind of Dessert You Just Had – But I Do Care About Free Speech, Social Justice, and Collective Action

I was initially quite turned off by Twitter because most of the feeds I followed (teenage friends of my teenage sister) seemed a complete waste of time and brain cells – as Shirky writes in Here Comes Everybody

“it can seem awfully banal.”

What I realize now is that it’s all in the context. Shirky’s discussion of the power of Twitter includes an example in which freedom fighters depend on twitter as an organizing, coordinating, and safety tool and means for reporting news when free speech is not allowed – the opposite of banal.

So how can we public health champions find the right context and utilize the power of Twitter?
The director of social media at Momsrising.org, Anita Jackson has some helpful tips about how using twitter and hashtags allows for focused conversations around topics of interest as seen in this video interview:

1) use tweet chats and hashtags to drive audience
2) build a community of bloggers to contribute
3) use analytic tools to maximize impact (tools available to analyze who is being reached)
4) identify program goals and choose appropriate tools (top tip from Anita Jackson)
5) reach out to your real world social networks

Examining Some Healthy Twitter Feeds – 2 of My Integrative Medicine GurusAnts_Eggs_Market_Thailand

As a medical student frequently disillusioned by stark hospital environments and Western medicine’s lack of willingness to accept alternative viewpoints, I often looked to Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen and Dr. Andrew Weil for inspiration. So, I decided to check out their twitter feeds.

andrew weil

Andrew Weil, MD

Dr. Andrew Weil is a physician and pioneer in the area of integrative medicine with a focus on health of the mind, body, and spirit. When I looked at his twitter feed, I was pleased to find a refreshing reminder of Dr. Weil’s philosophy including a variety of information relating to alternative approaches to health – links to nutritional recommendations, public health messages (i.e. get your children vaccinated!), images of spiritual practices, re-tweets from respected health organizations, and meaningful quotations. It’s a good resource.
One tip I learned from Dr. Weil’s tweets: a short question is attention getting and makes me click the link.

Rachel Naomi Remen

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

Rachel Naomi Remen is a physician and pioneer in relationship centered care and integrative medicine. She has written numerous books, but her book Kitchen Table Wisdom SHARE LINK was particularly meaningful to me as a medical student coming to terms with the suffering faced by my patients. She founded a course for medical students called The Healer’s Art the healer's artin which she focuses on putting heart and soul back into Western medical practice. This inspiring course is now offered in half of American medical schools. A highlight of my time in medical school was inviting Dr. Remen and having her accept the invitation to come and speak at the Women and Health Lecture Series for which I was the student director. I looked at her twitter feed, and I was a bit disappointed to find a disjointed collection of tweets that seemed like afterthoughts. It was clear that her twitter feed was not a priority but rather just an additional social media outlet to which she is connected and uses to advertise her recent blog posts or comment on events.
One tip I learned from Dr. Remen’s tweets: Using twitter to advertise blog posts or events alone is boring if done without finesse. To engage twitter followers, tweets should be constructed as attention getting tidbits that may entice readers to pursue further information.
Bonus Observation: Twitter may not be the right place to seek soul nourishing content.


4 thoughts on “I Don’t Care What Kind of Dessert You Just Had – But I Do Care About Free Speech, Social Justice, and Collective Action

  1. You’ve made and excellent distinction here between the two general types of tweets: The generally banal tweets that are intended for friends (or people you already know), and then more content-driven tweets intended for an outward facing audience. For the most part people fall into one or the other category ( I doubt Dr. Weil tweets about his cats/laundry/commute), but occasionally I find a person on twitter who does both simultaneously. It’s very strange to be reading really insightful thought about feminism and then a tweet about lunch.

    Another way that some health and science professionals use twitter is to engage in conversation. For example, several scientists I follow have had a lively debate about if post-doctoral fellows should be eligible for overtime under the new federal laws, and how that would impact hiring and grant funding. Now, this kind of conversation isn’t possible for really well known people (Justin Bieber, or Dr. Weil), because of the imbalance of income to outgoing messages, as Clay Shirky discusses. There are just too many incoming messages to ever respond to. But having a discussion on twitter means that even if everyone can’t engage in the conversation, it is out in the open where anyone can read it (and hopefully follow any links), which means that more people will know that this is a topic worthy of discussion, and here are some of the viewpoints. The discussion may be banal (see this week’s Taylor Swift feud) or it might reach to the core of society (#BlackLivesMatter), but what matters it that we can see it.

    Perhaps Dr. Remen just needs to find someone to talk to on Twitter to liven up her feed.

  2. I love your title – it’s really engaging and tells potential readers what they need to know about your post, without being so functional as to be dull or sound like an academic treatise. You’ve integrated pictures and other media – the links to videos and Twitter feeds – really well. You’ve told your story and not interrupted it with clunky links. Margot adds some good points about how people are able to engage in debate. I think this is good use of Twitter, as the tweets are too short to effectively convey public health messages (for the most part). But entering into a debate about an issue allows the account holder and others to flesh out a story or argument, while keeping individual posts short enough to keep readers’ attention. Over time/tweets you could cover the breadth or depth of a health issue. Readers could be drawn in by a pithy tweet about a health topic that’s relevant to them, but properly informed (within what’s possible in this kind of conversation), rather than seduced by quick or quack fixes. Hopefully, this sort of approach would improve the quality of health microblogs – http://www.healthwriterhub.com/should-health-bloggers-give-health-advice/ – especially if you can get some subject experts involved in the conversation.

  3. Thank you for a fantastic post. I also am a twitter doubter and your personal story drew me in and I can see how twitter can be beneficial in promoting public health. Your title was great and the layout of the post was easy to read. I also liked how you outlined the tips from Anita Jackson directly below the video for reference or in case readers didn’t want to watch a seven minute video. It was great that the video was embedded into your post for easy viewing.
    I appreciate the links directly to the physicians twitter pages. Dr. Weils tweets are often intriguing questions or statements that draw readers in to click through the links to answer the posted question or for more information. He also demonstrates the benefits of retweeting. One of his colleagues posted a photo of him teaching on her twitter page that spread the word about him to her followers and he was able to retweet on his page to share with his followers as well. I see what you mean about Dr. Remens twitter feed, lots of self advertising. I was very interested in her book (thanks for sharing!) and looks like it would be a great gift for someone I know. Dr. Remen excels at many other things, twitter just might not be one of them. It really shows no matter how brilliant you are, twitter is not for everyone. Or as Heather Mansfield recommends it might be worthwhile to shop around internally to see who has the best voice for twitter. This may only apply to organizations and not individuals posting on twitter. Maybe Dr. Remen, and other who haven’t quite found their twitter voice, could consider incorporating meansurement tools like Bit.ly or Ow.ly to track what works and what doesn’t. One thing I really appreciated you sharing was how physicians used twitter but it was not solely for medical purposes. Both Remen and Weil shared information that anybody could understand and practices that anyone could incorporate into their daily lives.
    One suggestion is to direct all links to open in new tabs. The link to The Healer’s Art opened without opening a new tab so it was a bit difficult (a minute or two 🙂 ) to go back to your post and continue reading where I left off. Your links to the twitter pages opened up a new tab, which is great.
    Thanks again for sharing. I really enjoyed reading your post!

  4. Hi Liana. Congratulations on a great post! After poring through many twitter feeds, I was feeling quite daunted by the inane chatter that I now have a view to, and wondering how that is a good us of anyone’s time. So your title really struck a cord with me and made me want to learn more. I like how you shared two examples of posts that and provided learning tips. I think you illustrated the point of active investment (time and content) to engage followers are critical to Twitter success. If I can make a suggestion, and it’s a small one, consider placing a tip icon or bold-face “tip” to really draw the reader’s eye to your valuable insights. Also consider adding “public health” as a tag to the article. It those who want to hone in on social media and public health will really find this post a good read!

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