Using Twitter to Galvanize Your Movement

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Mass movement thumbnail

In public health we’re always trying to make some sort of change that will improve people’s health or create the right conditions for it. Of course, we can’t do that alone – we need to work with communities to get the messages out there in the right way and mobilise people for action. Sometimes what’s required is a change in policy and what you need from the community is support for the idea, e.g. getting people to sign a petition on energy use. At other times, you’re trying to get community members to change their own behaviour, such as using their cars less.

Meeting in clubs vs meeting online

Crown club thumbnailIn the old days, people would attend public meetings and/or belong to clubs or associations. So, you could reach them face-to-face quite easily. How do you bring them together in these days of dispersed families and scattered communities? Clay Shirky says in his book, Here Comes Everybody, that this fragmentation has reduced social capital – networks and ties between people enabling them to cooperate and support each other. He also says it’s caused the “transaction costs” of groups meeting in person to become so high as to make it really difficult.

Getting the Community Behind You



Twitter can be a really effective way of bringing people together, with much lower transaction costs. You can get people behind an idea. It’s particularly handy for bringing together a lot of people, who share an interest in the same issue, but might not bump Follow me thumbnailinto each other otherwise. Sometimes that’s because they are widely spread out – maybe even all over the globe – and sometimes they live in the same neighbourhood, but don’t know each other. If you can capture their imaginations, you can bring them together online to join your campaign. Just look at the success of ‪#blacklivesmatter in raising awareness, or the campaign to get Twitter to add an “abuse button”.Screenshot 2015-07-28 00.10.33 You could use Twitter to get people together to develop a food bank, time banking scheme, local park, or whatever, as a way of creating or strengthening social capital.

As with any public health campaign, you need to know your community. Twitter can also help you to understand who’s following your tweets. E.g. you can find out what health interests they have (and even what risk factors or illnesses) by seeing what they’re tweeting about. If you have the resources, you can check user profiles to find out where they’re located and other information they might have included, like their occupations (Paul & Dredze, 2011).

What can you use it for?

Prof. Helen Bevan is a renowned change leader in the UK National Health Service (NHS). She is very well-known and I want change thumbnailwell-regarded among NHS managers and some clinicians (most have no clue about management). Her Twitter timeline is mainly made up of catchy quotes about leadership and change management, usually with links, such as this one about team diversity – . She uses Twitter to help bring together the change agents across the NHS.

Chris Bolton thumbnailChris Bolton’s Twitter profile says he is “Interested in learning, sharing & better public services.” He tweets and blogs quite frequently about management and leadership, particularly in the public sector. His Twitter timeline contains a mixture of serious and humorous (Dilbert style) posts about management, personal homilies and health messages. Despite the somewhat distracting mix, he keeps the stream engaging by using lots of visuals – photos and cartoons – and adds links to his and other blogs. He uses his Twitter stream to create community around leadership in the public sector.

How to create a Twitter storm

A couple of years ago we used Twitter to promote a weekend of physical activity events in the town centre, including a 5k run. We drip fed the info for a few weeks, then got really busy in the last couple of weeks. The local pressed also tweeted about it and hundreds of people turned out on a freezing Saturday accompanied by hail!photo_verybig_161910

That’s not the type of storm I’m talking about, though. A Twitter storm is

an ATTEMPT to COORDINATE user actions on Twitter in order to create and maintain a “Trending Topic” “–

The storm can be a social movement for good, generated by some creativity, a catchy hashtag and a message that speaks to people. The community can help get the message out, by retweeting and sharing it. This is what happened with Dr Kate Granger (@GrangerKate) and #hellomynameis –

Screenshot 2015-07-27 22.27.19


So Twitter can help you create a movement, rouse your community to act and get them spread the word. Try it and see!



Paul, M. J., & Dredze, M. (2011). You Are What You Tweet: Analyzing Twitter for Public Health. In Proceedings of the Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. Retrieved from

Shirky, C. (2008). Solving Social Dilemmas. In Here Comes Everybody: how change happens when people come together (pp. 188 – 211). Penguin


7 thoughts on “Using Twitter to Galvanize Your Movement

  1. The #hellomynameis movement is a really interesting aspect of healthcare that I wasn’t aware of before. I will have to ask my nurse friends in the US if it is an idea that has jumped the pond (so to speak).
    I know I’ve said this before, but it really is great to have a non-US perspective on social media in health. It really shows how social media, particularly Twitter, can be both global and deeply local.

  2. Excellent post! Twitter is an excellent tool to bring people together for change, which you demonstrated well in your post. I really liked your use of images especially the one reading “Keep your coins, I want change.” Really powerful! There are so many organizations and individuals with the same goals, but didn’t have an opportunity to come together before the advent of social media. Today, people are so spread out that it is unlikely that they will naturally run into others with similar ideas for change. Also, the barriers to come together and coordinate action were often prohibitively large. Social medias has completely changed this and allowed people to find others with similar interests and work toward the same goals. The protests in the Middle East are a perfect example. The hashtag can be particularly useful to bring disjointed groups together. One piece of advice for individuals and nonprofit startups is to do your research before starting from scratch. There may already be someone out there doing what you want to do. Turn competitors into allies. Instead of trying everything ineffectively, consider collaborating in order to focus on doing what you do well to contribute to the larger goal of social change.

  3. Hi Sandra, Great post. I especially appreciated how you shared how you used the twitter storm to organize the day of physical activity. It’s amazing that so many people came out – hail storm and all! Your story really reminds me that I should be harnessing the power of social media in my work. I am still not sold on the idea that hashtags can bring people together, though. There’s got to be something more – some greater organizing force, don’t you think? For example, with the #blacklivesmatter, when I clicked on the link in your post, I am taken to a feed with a wide variety of posts – most (on the first page) not very informative or even ugly backlash comments. It didn’t make me want to start posting using that hashtag. What am I missing? How are people organizing around #blacklivesmatter when there is so much “noise” from random and unfriendly posts?
    I also really liked your use of the thumbnail images to keep the post lively without distracting from the reading. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Hi Sandra. Thank you for this really informative post. You make a very compelling argument for the use of Twitter daily to inform, to build community, and to create momentum for an initiative. I like all the links and examples which help me better understand these concepts in practice. My only suggestion is to consider adding tags to your post so that your post can be more easily discoverable by search. Appreciate the post and the mini education on Twitter storm!

  5. Great suggestion about adding tags, Lucy. Thank you. You can tell I’m a bit of a Twitter novice. I’ve had an account for a couple of years, but never actually sent an original tweet before now!

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