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
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.
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 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 in 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.