Twitter for #publichealth : 4 Effective Ways to Communicate By Fortune Cookie In a “>140” World


Twitter is a microblogging platform that consists of concise snippets of communication.  Each snippet generally consists of 140 characters or less, which leaves little room for error when it comes to clarity and depth of expressing an idea.  In this way, Twitter is a little like communicating by fortune cookie!  Twitter has a number of advantages to promote engagement with a public health message, as well as provide important information upon which to assess public health needs.

But what happens when your message doesn’t fit neatly on the little slip of paper Twitter provides for your “fortunate cookie”?  This post discusses how to microblog effectively on Twitter in a “>140” world.

1. Think about what you want to say, then say it calmly and concisely.

Be patient!  Rapid engagement with your target audience can be a double-edged sword.  It can be tempting to just dash off a few words and hit “send.”  Take some extra time to consider how what you’re composing on Twitter fits in with your overall brand message, tone, and goals.  Does the tone and spelling of your tweet align with your marketing message?  Does your “fortune” express a complete thought?  Is your “fortune” sarcastic?  This is particularly important if you’re responding to another Twitter user Sometimes short-term gains in engagement with particularly controversial posts just aren’t worth the potential negative effects on brand image and messaging in the long-term.

2. Know where your audience is located and make sure your message finds them!

Find your Tweeps!  Putting your message out there is the first step.  But just because your “fortune” is out there doesn’t mean the Twittersphere will find and engage with it.  Teach that elephant to dance!  Hashtags are a fantastic way to organize your “fortune cookie” missives and ensure people know where to find them.

Remember the tabs in file cabinets?  Uh, yeah…me either…I mean, who’s seen an actual file cabinet recently?

Well, anyway, people may click on a hashtag to identify tweets that are organized around a theme or a thread.  Public health hashtags are a good way for people interested in public health to find content.  The American Public Health Association, Surgeon General, and Allied Health Professions organization in the UK are top influencers of #publichealth, so they are definitely worth a follow.  Mentioning some of these influencers in your tweets is also an easy way to raise the profile of your message.  High profile Twitter users might retweet your content, and users who scan “@ mentions” of high profile users can find your content easier.

3. Link to other content, such as a website, blog post, Facebook page, or other social media platform.

Sometimes the best strategy in #publichealth Twitter is to link back to a “>140” medium, like a WordPress blog, Facebook page, or webpage.  In this manner, your “fortune” serves as a way for a Twitter user to learn more about your organization.  Many organizations use this strategy to drive traffic to these other, more information rich sources.  This function is supported by third party apps that can integrate your Twitter feed with your other social media accounts.  Sharing links can increase user engagement by 86%.

Participate in the conversation!  Imagine that person at a cocktail party who’s constantly talking about themselves.  Yep, that’s the organization that just uses their Twitter feed to advertise what’s changed on their blog or website.  It’s important to balance this strategy with adequate real-time user engagement.  Twitter users could be less likely to engage with your content if it’s perceived you’re using your Twitter account to advertise your website.

4. Twitter may only give you 140 characters, but a picture is still worth a thousand words.

Get more cookies!  A great way to express a complete thought with your “fortune,” and to boost engagement with your brand or message, is to include a photo or video.  Research done by Twitter suggests an increase in retweets and clickthroughs with inclusion of a photo, resulting in up to 200% engagement with content.  Compose your visual media carefully, obtain proper releases from subjects, and ensure your visual media is on message.  Photos can be uploaded directly to Twitter.  Think about the use of Vine or other hosting service for concise snippets of video that can support your message.

With these tips, you’re now ready to take on the #publichealth Twitterverse. Have fun composing your “fortunes” and engaging your audience!


11 thoughts on “Twitter for #publichealth : 4 Effective Ways to Communicate By Fortune Cookie In a “>140” World

  1. Todd, you did a fantastic job relating something that may be so new to someone like tweeting to the idea of the fortune cookie that is so familiar to us-I loved it! Because of this example the reader will immediately understand what they are working with on Twitter if they decide to use it. I also enjoyed how you used hyperlinks. It is so useful to have the example that you give or the reference be just a click a way. This is a great way to share information and to get others connected with more important information. To strengthen your post even more, I recommend that you give yourself a paragraph synthesizing all the lessons learned-even though you do this all throughout it is great to bring it all together in the end. In this paragraph show your public health readers what the perfect post looks like when you apply all the tips that you suggested. I think by bringing in more specific case examples (using hyperlinks) your readers will immediately understand what you mean and how to put your suggestions into action on Twitter. Also one other recommendation would be to shorten your title and to always be clear and concise. The title is the first thing that will most likely catch your readers eye. Overall, great work, I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot from it.

    • Thank you! I have been a Twitterholic for a little while now. It was great to have the opportunity to stand back and critically analyze how I might be able to use it for the ‘forces of good,’ rather than arguing and procrastinating. I agree a few more specific use cases could have been helpful, so I’ll try to incorporate those more into future posts. Short titles are always a downfall for me, and I will keep working toward that goal.

  2. Hi Todd,

    I liked your comparison to the fortune cookies- I hadn’t thought of it that way before and it gave you a nice theme throughout the post. Your tips were also very on point & I think your first one is very important. With the immediacy of today’s world it’s hard to not get caught up in a rapid-fire back and forth with someone on a topic you feel passionate about, but you need to remember your overall brand & image. You use a good number of visuals and using a list is an effective way to present information. I think to take this to the next level, play around with your formatting a bit more- bold & make text different sizes to highlight the salient bits within the list itself.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I will play more with formatting for future posts. That’s always something I dealt with in ‘post-production,’ with lots of feedback from editors and typesetters. I have to remember that those people are now me!

  3. I liked this post, it made me laugh while engaging me with a topic that (until the last few weeks) I was not familiar with. Your example here was great, and every time I go to compose a tweet I will certainly think about fortune cookies and the advice you gave here.

  4. Hi Todd-

    I really liked this post and simple connection to a fortune cookie. Your links were well placed within your text, although I do agree with Jersey that they could be bolded or stand out a bit more to make them pop. Your post had a great and easy to integrate tips for great twitter posts- I love the linking the short post to another social media platform for more information, I also found this on my twitter investigation!
    Great post!

  5. Todd, I love the entire idea of Twitter as fortune cookies, also public health fortune cookies. There is a fortune cookie factory here in Sacramento, I may need to make this a reality! I thought the post was laid out very well- it included a lot of information but was also concise and broke it up with images.

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