Using twitter as a Healthcare Professional
Needless to say, Twitter is an incredibly popular social media platform. But, like Facebook, it’s also a platform which has transcended the bounds of the Internet, to appear in mainstream media and on television on a daily basis. Some people, and some organisations, swear by it, whilst others are less enthusiastic. But can an individual healthcare professional make meaningful use of Twitter’s immense power, and if so, how?
As a very well established UK locum agency, placing pharmacists, optometrists and other healthcare personnel with a wide range of top clients, we at Team Locum conduct much of our networking in the offline world. But social media is renowned as a great connector of people, and there’s no doubt that the amazing connectivity of Web 2.0 can help professionals build profiles, which can ultimately win them work, and/or influence. In this article we’re going to look at some of the ways in which healthcare professionals are building profiles on Twitter, and using the network to their advantage.
The fundamental challenge with all social media is being found. Most of us will pretty straightforwardly be found by the people who already know us, but how do we get found by those who don’t even know we exist? Twitter in particular can be a land of opportunity in this respect. But as with all areas of the Web, route one to connecting with new people, is via the search function.
Search functions help us find people who might be interested in us. Perhaps they’re talking about things we care about, and will pop into view when we search for particular phrases. We can then connect with them by joining in their conversations or following their profiles. But search functions really come into their own if we can be whatever it is that other people are searching for.
This is a coup which has been mastered by locum optometrist Shagufta Khan. When we search the simple phrase “locum optometrist” on Twitter, this is what we see at the top of the results – every single time…
It’s a highly visible, media-rich display of Shagufta’s Twitter profile. It’s serving the function of a paid advertisement, but it’s not an ad. It’s an organic search result, based on the fact that Shagufta’s profile is deemed, by Twitter’s algorithms, most relevant to our search. Because we were already following Shagufta, we thought Twitter might have ‘bubbled‘ us (served a tailored result based specifically on our preferences). But no. When logged out, on a separate computer, we still see a prominent display of Shagufta’s locum profile, and she even tops the relevant Twitter-related results on Google…
So how has Shagufta managed to place herself so visibly in these relevant searches?
Well, we notice that she engages well on Twitter, she tweets content that provides value for her followers, she reciprocates follows, she has a professional-looking profile, and she’s managed to grab a great username in @TheLocumOptom. These are all things one would associate with a high quality, well-thought-out social media account. Essentially, Shagufta has identified herself very clearly as a locum optometrist, and built a good profile around that.
Of course, the fine detail of how Shagufta has achieved this clever coup is her own secret. But whatever the minutiae, it’s given her an advertising presence on a huge social media site, and it hasn’t cost her a penny.
Another impressive Twitter profile run by a healthcare professional is Dull Pharmacy Tweets (@DullPharmacist). One of the first things you’ll notice about Dull Pharmacy Tweets is that the account has a very substantial following. There looks to be a bigger Twitter ‘scene’ around pharmacy than around optometry, and that’s something Dull Pharmacy Tweets has been able to exploit in order to attract a very sizeable audience.
But let’s not in any way trivialise what it takes to build a profile like this. Cultivating an engaged audience typically requires novel ideas, and theming an account around a specific, unique concept has proved to be a winner for Twitter users time and time again. The @DullPharmacist account is informative, but the presentation is humorous. The output comes across as a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the slight geekiness of pharmaceutical interests – served up dry, with a deliberate peppering of extra-boring. Here’s a classic example…
In other news, I discovered that prednisolone is available as a 30mg tablet
I thought it only came as 1mg, 2.5mg, 5mg and 25mg
— Dull Pharmacy Tweets (@DullPharmacist) October 10, 2016
Or, if you find that a little too interesting, you could try…
I’m at work half an hour early but I’ll go in and sit in the staff room for a while.
— Dull Pharmacy Tweets (@DullPharmacist) October 8, 2016
The account name is very clever, because it creates an impetus for those encountering the profile for the first time to actually investigate the tweets. On Twitter, that’s by no means a given. There’s a lot of “noise” on the world’s number one ‘micro-blogging’ site, which means that many users will need to be prompted to read a profile. However, simply asking people to read has been widely shown as ineffective. Subtle tactics, which motivate rather than ask, are the clever way to go about building engagement, and Dull Pharmacy Tweets’ username is definitely motivational.
The account is, as one might expect, run with a good knowledge of Twitter, and social media principles in general. Good engagement, reciprocal following, and account notification methods have probably helped, but what makes this profile attractive is its entertainment value. In an environment where many accounts are very repetitive, profiles that set out to give value to the audience, rather than merely self-promoting, really stand out.
Not everyone seeks entertainment on Twitter. In fact, if you look at the way Twitter pitches itself, there’s strong evidence that the site is keen to be perceived as an up-to-the-second news-delivery service. And with many news organisations themselves relying on Twitter for breaking information, there’s no doubt that the site’s self-assessment has plenty of substance.
The hunger for information among Twitter readers affords healthcare professionals an advantage. Pharmacists, optometrists, nurses, doctors, etc, have valuable knowledge. And to anyone who doesn’t already have it, that knowledge is news.
Outside of healthcare, setting up news-delivery accounts is a popular Twitter tactic. But most such accounts merely copy or aggregate news from other outlets. Healthcare industry insiders, however, have the knowledge to deliver industry news first. And since healthcare is something everyone cares about, a healthcare professional’s informed commentary can mean a lot, to a wide array of people.
However, it appears that the personal touch, and perhaps a sprinkling of opinion, is vital to the delivery of healthcare news. Making the news relatable, and delivering it to people who can relate. Where news is delivered without that personal touch, engagement looks to be low. There are healthcare news profiles with tens of thousands of followers, tweeting news links in a mechanical fashion, and barely gaining any acknowledgement. Meanwhile, there are individual personalities with modest followings, providing a personal insight into healthcare, and generating lots of engagement.
Here are some of the attributes we’ve noticed are common to those who build great profiles on Twitter…
- Observation is a key skill. Noticing when online searches don’t yield any results, and seeking to actually BE those missing results helps people to be found on Twitter.
- Positivity also looks to be very important. Some negative commentary can be perceived as toxic, making other users wary and perhaps persuading them to steer clear. Most users don’t want to be hauled into arguments or associated with trouble.
- Reciprocating as many follows as possible appears to increase engagement. Twitter users who are known to follow back also tend to gain and retain more followers, and ultimately achieve better exposure. Whilst a lot of Twitter users are looking for information, many also like to feel listened to, and following back indicates an openness to listen.
- Imagination, variation and regular tweeting are often cited as key ingredients in a profile’s success on Twitter, and our observations bear this out.
- Finally, we notice that a lot of successful Twitter users are highly interactive. They care about what’s going on with other users, as well as chatting, offering feedback, etc.
Of course, Twitter was founded as a social resource, and it still excels as a personal communication medium. Particularly since the character capacity for Direct Messaging was dramatically increased, Twitter has served as a great alternative to email, in which communicators do not have to commit to being permanently contactable. If this, more personal side of Twitter can be integrated into a broader promotional or profile-raising exercise, the site promises an enormous amount of potential for an ambitious healthcare professional. And the more the healthcare scene develops on Twitter, the more use it will be for everyone.
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