140 Characters or Less! The Equation to Microblogging for Health

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According to Mansfield in Social Media for Social Good, Twitter is transitioning from social media to information media. Instead of using the platform to socialize, people use Twitter to get information out to the masses. As public health professionals, Twitter (and other microblogging sites) can be useful tools to help increase the audience that our information is disseminated to.

So how can we get this information to our audience without turning them off of our brand? Here’s some helpful math to get you started:

# (hashtag)

Previously known as the pound or number sign, the # allows the hashtagged phrase to be searched on Twitter. For example, if your post is about the Paleo diet, by including #paleo in your tweet, your audience now extends to whoever is looking for information about eating Paleo. Instead of only reaching the people who have chosen to follow you, you can reach the entire Twitter-sphere. This is helpful especially if there is a big event whose followers might not be your normal target audience. The twitter handles of Kaiser Permanente have recently been using the #ReachUpLA hashtag to promote the Special Olympics. Use hashtags with caution though! You don’t want to make your tweet too difficult to read or seem too desperate. The sweet spot is 1-2 hashtags/tweet.

4-6x/day

The nature of Twitter means that if you aren’t tweeting often, you’re old news. New content is constantly being added by millions of users and if your tweets are 1-2 days old, they’re likely already buried under other content. To increase your impact on social media and to really get the public health information out there, you should be sending out 4-6 tweets per day! It is a daunting task, especially to the smaller organizations who may not be putting out a lot of newsworthy information. The Dept. of Health Twitters I looked at (San Francisco, State of California) put out maybe one tweet a day and are likely to get buried in feeds. So how do you stay relevant (and not boring) while putting out tweets on fresh topics? RETWEET– by retweeting other Twitter users, you’re supplementing the information that your organization is providing.

80/20 + 25% rules

So now that we’ve mentioned retweeting, we should also give you the “rules” about how to use it. The 80/20 rule is an important one- 80% of your retweets should be old-school retweeting (where you “reply” that tweet and putting RT in front of the tweet) and 20% should be using the “retweet” option. Why should you use the built-in “retweet” function less than the more involved way? The “retweet” function does have its benefits, including alerting the person you’re retweeting (so they can maybe reciprocate in the future?); the retweet doesn’t have your Twitter avatar or information on it. It’s hard to tell who is tweeting- you or the person you’ve re-tweeted. Make sure your followers know where the information is coming from. Finally, your retweets should only make up about 25% of your tweets. You don’t want to parrot everything back that is being said elsewhere, or why would people come to you for information? Make sure you’re also including your organization’s own information in your tweets and that you aren’t relying too heavily on others for content.

1:1

The ideal ratio for following is 1:1. If you sign-up for Twitter and then follow everyone under the sun, you look desperate and maybe like a spammer. However, if you don’t follow anyone, users can’t connect with you via direct messaging and they may be turned off. For every follower you get, you should follow that person/organization back. This is a surefire way to grow your audience and make sure it is relevant.  


Twitter can be an effective tool for public health practitioners to spread information and elicit change if used properly. It can take a while to get the hang of getting a message out in less than 140 characters!

REMEMBER: (#) + (4-6x) + (80/20 + 25%) + (1:1) = MORE FOLLOWERS & BIGGER AUDIENCE

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2 thoughts on “140 Characters or Less! The Equation to Microblogging for Health

  1. Great work this week! You did a great job of including the readings from this week as well as providing great case examples, that show the reader examples of what you are referring to. You write incredibly clear and to the point. In addition, I felt that your title was catchy and very fitting for your post. A few recommendations that I feel would make your post even stronger is if you used hyperlinks within your post. That way I could have clicked directly on the link that could have taken me directly to the organization that you were talking about. Also, you may want to use more examples of organizations that are taking all of these steps and doing them well.

  2. Great post, Jersey! I like how you put together some very specific recommendations for increasing user engagement. It’s an inexact science, this Twitter engagement thing, and I think you nailed a lot of solid practices. I use Twitter for both personal and professional purposes, and I run them differently as a result. I kinda don’t care about increasing engagement on my personal account, but I definitely care about increasing engagement on my professional one. Will take a careful look at the frequency of posts and follower ratios to see if I can optimize my professional account. As for my personal one, well that one is for professional debates and procrastination only! If you’re signed on for fun or for the course, look me up! I’m @sunsopeningband.

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