More personal tweets could boost local health departments

August 23, 2013

A recent study finds that more local health departments are using Twitter, but mostly in one-way communication with followers.

If your local heath department (LHD) is on Twitter, is it engaging followers or just serving as a 140-character encyclopedia? A recent study finds that more LHDs are using Twitter, but mostly in one-way communication with followers.

The study conducted by the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) researched Twitter use in the public health field, surveying more than 200 LHDs from across the country from large to small, urban to rural. Social media use is still in its early stages, with more urban and high-density-populated LHDs being more Twitter-savvy than rural ones.

Most Tweets from LHDs centered around personal health (56.1%) or information about the organization (39.5%). Of those Tweets about personal health, the majority focused on factual information (58.5%), while about 40% encouraged some sort of action. When LHDs tweet about their organizations, most talked about events and services (51.9%), while only 35% tried to engage followers in a conversation. Overall, 12% of LHDs use Twitter, which the study states is consistent with individual adult use of Twitter at 15%.

One-way communication is important for public health organizations during disease outbreaks and emergency situations, but JMIR finds that these organizations have an opportunity to engage followers at a higher level. “Limiting social media use to one-way communication decreases its interactive capacity to engage its audience. While social media can be used to disseminate health information, it should also be used to create dialogue and engage audiences,” JMIR states.

At least one-third of LHDs used Twitter to engage their followers by using personal pronouns and other more conversational language.

The study offered suggestions to public health groups on how to increase Twitter engagement including, developing relationships with both organizations and individuals; increase information about participating in programs and services; and using more original content with less tweets directing followers to other websites.

“LHDs may know nothing or very little about their followers unless they engage in a dialogic communication to establish relationships. To indiscriminately post information on Twitter is inefficient,” JMIR states.