Confession: I don’t have Twitter. I work full time and go to school part time so I don’t have time or patience to “follow” Kim Kardashian or any of her sisters. But wait, if I’m the only person I know who doesn’t tweet, what am I missing? I recently delved into the Twitter world to discover what I could possible be missing out on (or not missing out on) and I found several features that apply to my role as a public health student:
1. Twitter is mainstream. Teenagers have it, celebrities have it, and my dad has it. (The only large population that doesn’t have Twitter is China, Twitter = illegal in China.) This social media platform has penetrated the masses so if you want to spread a public health message or alert, Twitter is becoming an omnipresent way to send it.
2. Twitter is immediate. Unlike a TV news channel that has to be switched on, tweets go straight to the smart phones that nearly everyone owns now. You (or the public health populations you are trying to reach) can’t escape it. A great example of an agency that uses Twitter to spread public health alerts is the NYC Department of Health.
3. Twitter is location based. Twitter is a goldmine of GPS data that could be used to track outbreaks and trends in public health. In fact, researchers at Johns Hopkins are developing an algorithm to use “trigger” words to track diseases. For instance, tweets containing “stop” and “eyes” lead to tweeters suffering from allergies.
4. Twitter microblogging is better than regular blogging. It’s shorter and sweeter and perfect for scanning a lot of information in a short amount of time. We can’t be experts at everything but if you follow the right sources, Twitter helps the public health professional stay current and savvy in a world where data is constantly growing and changing.
5. Twitter is for social networking. Who do you want to be when you “grow up?” A lot of great scientists, business leaders, and public health leaders are on Twitter. A good way to “pick their brains” would be to add them and see what they’re Tweeting about. Maybe you’ll even get noticed by Stephen Hawking! (What, only 11000 followers?)
So although I may not use Twitter now, I see the benefits and the leverage it could give me in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if after I graduated I found a little time to do some tweeting myself. 😉