Peggy Stager, M.D.
Director, Division of Adolescent Health
MetroHealth Medical Center
By now, as a savvy #Tweetiatrician you have likely participated in a Twitter chat. It is usually hosted by one individual or organization, centers around one topic, and has a specific date and start/stop time (typically lasting 1 hour). The conversation is posted on a single specific hashtag, such as #HPVvaccine, to allow for a central location for all to “attend”. The chat platform creates an open forum for questions/answers, postings of resources, and sharing of ideas and solutions to particular challenges or issues. The role of the host is to post questions to generate discussion, engage the participants, and summarize resources or links related to the topic of discussion. It’s an excellent tool for meeting people who are champions or experts in the field, and for sharing ideas. Think of it as a power learning collaborative condensed into one hour.
If you are experienced with Twitter chats, are you ready to host one? Anyone can host a Twitter chat. Hosts can be an individual, organization, or campaign with a desire to generate discussion around a specific issue. I was approached by the AAP Media team and hosted my first Twitter chat in October on the hashtag #AskAPediatrician. The chat was sponsored by the AAP and focused on the topic of parental resistance to the HPV vaccine, as well as general information about the vaccine. I learned a lot from the experience and if you’d like to host a Twitter chat then consider my top ten tips:
- 1. Pick a specific healthcare issue. If the topic is too broad, the conversation may be too diffuse without addressing pertinent questions or discussion points.
- 2. Recruit organizational sponsors. Reach out to those organizations whose work centers around the topic. Many organizations have large numbers of people following them which will expand your potential audience. For example if your topic is related to sports concussions, contact sports medicine professional organizations, or concussion prevention awareness campaign organizations.
- 3. Consider the specifics of your topic. Ask yourself, “What specific questions need discussion?”, “What do I want to be sure to convey?” This will help in the preparation of your questions and slides.
- 4. Reach out to individuals on Twitter who are experts on the subject – even if you’ve never met them. In addition, there are many non-physician advocates/educators on Twitter who have powerful voices and platforms for their causes. Examples include: Moms Demand Action (gun control).
- 5. Set the date and time and announce it on Twitter frequently. Be sure to mention the sponsors, and experts who’ll be on the chat. Create a colorful powerpoint slide as promotion for the chat. You may want to include a logo or a jpeg picture to set the visual theme. Once you have your slide design selected, use it for every subsequent slide.
- 6. Create 4-5 questions that flow as a progression of the topic. Again, I recommend powerpoint slides with the same design as the announcement slide. Label each question 1-5 so as participants respond they can label their responses as “A1”, meaning answer to question 1, etc. Have the slides at easy access during the chat.
- 7. Send out countdown messages as the chat time approaches: one day prior, 4 hours prior, 1 hour prior and 5 minutes prior. Be sure to include your specific chat hashtag on every message. Countdown messages can be posted on other platforms like Facebook, organizational websites, or Instagram.
- 8. Create a distraction-free setting. The participants’ posts come fast and furiously and you’ll need to be typing and responding as quickly as you can. I advise working from your computer with your cell phone as a backup.
- 9. Welcome all of the participants and invited experts. Post your questions every 10-12 minutes, and watch how the conversation is flowing and evolving. Retweet and like those posts that you want to be sure to share and amplify.
- 10. Wrap up the chat with a summary statement. As the hour comes to an end, thank the participants. Offer to share additional resources and links post-chat.
If you’d like to see the reach of your chat, Twitter has analytics embedded in each account. But keep in mind the analytics won’t track the specific hashtag of the chat. For that information, you can try Symplur. It’s a software product that allows you to track a hashtag and get specific data on your chat such as number of participants, impressions, and top influencers. In closing, hosting a Twitter chat is a great opportunity to create an open forum for dialogue on a specific healthcare topic. You’ll likely meet new people, connect with fellow advocates, and learn from other healthcare professionals from all around the country- in one quick hour!