You may have seen doctors deep in conversation about surgical techniques on the hashtag #MedTwitter.
It’s also easy to find pharmacists on #TwitteRx talking about the math involved in antibiotic dosing, but the best tweets don’t use complex language.
Twitter’s quick, to-the-point style can be difficult for health writers who are used to composing in-depth articles, and the jargon can get confusing.
Plenty of online tutorials can teach you the difference between retweets and hashtag chats, but let’s focus on health communication from credible Twitter accounts.
Plain language works on Twitter
What can we do to get better #sleep and reduce our risk of #HeartDisease? Tune in live today at 12pm EST for a videocast featuring Dr. Michael Twery from @NIH_NHLBI’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. https://t.co/8t1RGoNkKy. #heartmonth #hearthealth pic.twitter.com/o5pHwGWCSa
— NIH (@NIH) February 26, 2020
The most successful tweets use plain language, even if the topic is complex.
This tweet about heart disease from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a Flesch-Kincaid reading level of grade 9.1.
That means it should be understandable to anyone with a 9th-grade education. It also includes an easy-to-watch animated video.
Hashtags, videos, and emojis do a great job of breaking up big ideas into smaller, easily-understandable parts.
After seeing this clear and memorable tweet, it will be hard for me to forget about the connection between sleep and heart health.
Guidelines for health industry on social media
Clarity in health communication is an important goal for social media users.
In January, Twitter blogged about ways to assure that information about coronavirus was not misleading (this strategy was in addition to the existing country-specific guidelines about promotional healthcare information).
Twitter’s strategies include expanding search prompts and partnering with public health organizations to promote credible information.
Twitter’s guidelines aren’t the only ones to keep in mind.
The US FDA Office of Prescription Drug Promotion published a guidance for social media in 2014.
This guidance proposes that if a drug’s benefit is mentioned in a tweet, the risks should be included too. But who has room for all that in 280 characters?
Social media drug advertising is a field of ongoing study for the FDA.
For example, influencers that promote medications they use are still in a legal gray area.
Public comments are being accepted this year for an updated FDA study about direct-to-consumer advertising by social media influencers, and I am interested in the outcome.
Attention-grabbing Tweets that don’t break the rules
Personal Twitter accounts tend to be under less scrutiny than professional ones, but everyone should try to tweet responsibly.
If you look at credible Twitter accounts in the healthcare space, they are using effective engagement strategies that work around – if not exactly with – the guidelines.
The way to engage your audience with health content is the same as with any other content.
Be interesting, be relevant, and be quick.
— Mayo Clinic (@MayoClinic) February 5, 2020
- Spark curiosity about a disease state – the Mayo Clinic tweeted an eye-catching photo of Raynaud’s Syndrome that got 65 likes and 36 retweets.
- Post a video of an expert – the NIH tweeted a clip of a compelling interview from an upcoming television show that got 4.2K views, 56 likes, and 29 retweets.
- Celebrate a win – Pfizer tweeted about a high score on a workplace satisfaction survey that got 877 views, 28 likes, and 4 retweets. These tweets didn’t mention a drug, but got the audience interested in the brand.
- Post about a clinical study – the Mayo Clinic tweeted an opportunity for marathon runners, who were also breast cancer survivors, to participate in a clinical study. This one only got 9 likes and 6 retweets, but the meaningful metric – response rate – was not visible.
- Partner with a popular Twitter account, and use their high-traffic hashtag – Pfizer tweeted a photograph of young women who work in computer science at a Girls Who Code event. They used the hashtag #MakeSpaceForWomen, which got 191 likes and 64 retweets.
Sprout Social has ideas about how to find a popular hashtag if you get stuck, but a good rule of thumb is to search for the hashtag on Twitter and see how often it has been used in the past week.
Popular hashtags in technical Tweets
Like any other medium, the language in tweets should be targeted to an intended audience while leaving room for a broader reach.
The NIH tweet with the #sleep hashtag probably got a lot of views from Twitter users who weren’t interested in sleep studies, but a few of them might have clicked.
#CareForEachOther by staying current on vaccines for infections & illnesses, like seasonal flu. In addition to protecting yourself, getting vaccinated protects people who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness. More: https://t.co/iFuW4vMaHF #PrepYourHealth #MondayMotivation pic.twitter.com/uOYUzsws9P
— CDC Emergency (@CDCemergency) February 24, 2020
I’m still not used to broad hashtags like #MondayMotivation in CDC tweets about vaccine efficacy, but that’s the way things are trending.
Are you on Twitter yet? Comment below with your favourite healthcare account, so I can follow it, too.
About the author
This post was written by a member of the Health Writer Hub Alumni