Are you scared of Twitter? Are you on Twitter personally, but having a hard time selling it to your organization as useful for the larger brand? Consider this a resource to help you make the business case for Twitter. The National Prevention Information Network held a Webcast yesterday outlining the basics of Twitter for health professionals.  

First of all, you’re not alone in your Twitter trepidation. While in 2013 Twitter is expected to reach more than 7.1 million U.S. adult users, NPIN points out that that’s only 15% of online adults. And 8% are using it regularly.

Let’s get down to basics

It is likely you have heard of Twitter, but to regroup for the purposes of this discussion, it’s a micro-blog that provides “a real-time stream of breaking news,” said Erin Edgerton, NPIN director of social media. “It’s like the radio. You’re listening to it whatever is on while you’re driving to work and you turn it off when you get out of the car. It’s very tied to what’s going on in the moment.” She noted that it’s one the best social media tools to start with because it doesn’t require constant feeding. You can post tweets for a week but then take a break if you go on vacation or need to focus your resources elsewhere. And no one will notice or care, it won’t set you back at all, she says. 

The anatomy of a tweet is a bit like a foreign language to outsiders, but is easy to dissect. Here’s a sample tweet, along with explanations about the content: 

@Handle: RT @Mention: This is the meat of the tweet #thisisahashtag

  • @Handle: A handle is the name that you select for yourself on Twitter.
  • RT: This means retweet, and it shows that you’re interested in the content shared within the original tweet and you want to share it with your followers.
  • @Mention: This is when you include other people’s handles within your tweet; you’re engaging with someone or sharing something with them.
  • #Hashtags: These are trending topics that allow people to follow the conversation you or your organization wants to have (for example, the hashtag for the NPIN webcast was #SM4PH, for social media for public health, and the organizers were able to weed through the other conversations on Twitter to find out who was discussing their event).

Benefits

According to NPIN’s Edgerton, it’s important to remember that this is a real-time stream of information and a world where the hashtags and trending topics are always changing. It is important to embrace this whim during Twitter engagement. Here are four benefits the group outlined for using Twitter for your organization:

  1. Immediate dialogue and feedback — people on Twitter are hungry for information just like you
  2. Increased organization visibility — you become a quick expert to the world in your subject matter
  3. Connect with stakeholders and connect stakeholders to one another — it’s a new place to meet and one that’s filled with people who want to know more
  4. Lower cost than other social media networks — but it’s important to remember that there is a cost, we’ll discuss that below.

Pitfalls

  • Some organizations and people tend to want to use it as a broadcast-only tool. People who don’t engage in the discourse, said Edgerton, probably don’t have people listening.
  • There’s an assumption that it’s no cost. That’s just not true, said Edgerton. It takes time and energy for people who are monitoring and writing tweets and depending on your organization, you could also have people approving the marketing strategy and content.

A lot of organizations are still not using Twitter. This could be because of the lack of support from leadership, privacy concerns or outdated policies, lack of understanding about the resources it takes to tweet and the volume of content you may think you may need to create in order to stay interesting. If you want to make the case at your company about starting a Twitter account, follow these guidelines to start. 
Selling it

  • Identify allies at all organization levels during the planning phase.
  • Use the organization’s mission to frame your justification, and make sure you’re clear.
  • Develop a written strategy.
    • This should include an outline of your annual goals and objectives. Edgerton emphasized that because Twitter is constantly changing, it’s important to set aside a period each year to review those goals, see what’s been accomplished and establish new ones for the coming year.
    • Map out staff and time commitments.
    • Make an editorial calendar for the month or year to help guide your content output on a given day. This will help you space out when you repurpose content or share content a few times to make sure all users get a chance to see it.
    • Make a plan for routing incoming questions.

NPIN’s Melissa Beaupierre, senior director of marketing, emphasized that the tweet length is 140 characters but it’s OK and even recommended to tweet less. She said a sweet spot is around 120 characters in length, because it gives people a chance to RT you and add their own thoughts at the front. Again, the emphasis is on dialogue and engagement — if you’re not doing that, you’re probably not being heard.

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