5 Reasons LHDs Are On Twitter

It has been written about, but I still don’t see most local health departments (LHDs) using Twitter (or at least using it correctly). The American Public Health Association maintains a current List of all LHDs on Twitter.  The CDC and FEMA use it – a lot. Here are 5 reasons LHDs are on Twitter and why the rest that aren’t, should be.

1.  Emergency Preparedness – From #HurricaneSandy to #Stormaggeddon, Twitter can support crisis management and may provide an early warning to emergencies or alert you to developing situations in real-time.  During Hurricane Sandy, people tweeted about floods, loss of electricity, and even a Norovirus outbreak. Keep up with the latest on how to use Twitter, as well as social media, in emergency management from these great blogs:  The Face of the Matter, idisaster 2.0 and Social Media 4 Emergency Management.

An example of how Twitter was used by Mayor Booker to help residents during Hurricane Sandy.

2.  Tracking Disease TrendsIt became big news during this last flu season and monitoring disease outbreaks is one of the best known LHD uses for Twitter. It’s technically known in epidemiological-speak as a tracking system for syndromic surveillance. While not a 100% accurate, you can use a combination of hashtags, lists (media outlets, reporters, politicians, health departments, fire and police employees) and Boolean-like Twitter Advanced Searches for real-time local trends to complement traditional methods of tracking. For example, if you want to know who’s talking about ear infections within 15 miles of Chicago since the beginning of the month, use an Advanced Search like this: “ear infection” since:2013-3-1 near:Chicago within:15mi. You can also use Mappy Health or Health Map to ID trends to complement your Lists and Searches. Definitely use a Twitter client like Hoot Suite or TweetDeck to set up multiple panels of search queries.

3.  Breaking News – When a plane was grounded in Chicago’s Midway Airport because the CDC feared that a passenger had Monkey Pox, the rest of us found out that it was a false alarm from tweets with photos by another passenger before the CDC issued their statement. I also put this in the category of risk management because you can gain insights on topics that are brewing and potentially catch them before they boil over, like gauging sentiment on the NYC Soda Ban.

4.  Engage With Your Residents.  This is the social part of social media. LHDs are used to one-way asymmetric conversations (i.e., billboards). Try not to billboard your audience to death on Twitter by just promoting your department’s activities. People will get bored and eventually ignore you.  While awareness messages are the most common uses on Twitter for LHDs, mix in connecting with your residents. This builds trust and you’ll need it when you want them to listen to you in emergencies.

5.  Engage With Your KOLs.  Key opinion leaders are people that have an influence over your intended audience. They are politicians, reporters, policy advocates, nonprofit leaders, business people, clergy, community leaders, etc.  Anyone that can frame an issue, influence thought and make or break your campaigns is worth engaging.  They are on Twitter.  Look for them.

A final note, dont be a FUR (Follow. Unfollow. Repeat) offender. This gimmick is used by some to gain a lot of followers and improve their followers to following ratio to make it appear that they have a high degree of influence. While it would be nice to have thousands of people following us on Twitter while following no one else, it really goes against what Twitter is all about, unless your one of these celebrities: @DalaiLama, @Eminem and @Lord_Voldemort7!


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