Twitter Training Wheels: Hospital Twitter Etiquette for Beginners, Part Two

flickr: Dottie Mae

Last week, I introduced beginners to some of the basic Twitter etiquette. Today, I’m taking that discussion even further.

What are hashtags and why should I use them?

A hashtag is the symbol “#.” It is used with words, short phrases, or abbreviations (ex: #hospitals, #giveback, #hcsm) in order to categorize Tweets and make their subjects easy to find.

If you click on a hashtag in a Tweet, Twitter will show you all the other Tweets featuring that hashtag. They’re a great way to focus searches and include your Tweets in conversations about specific subjects. You can see the plethora of hashtags in use at: Also, if you look on the right of your Twitter page, you’ll see a column called “Trends.” This column is constantly updated with hashtags most in use at the current time.

Hashtags become particularly important during breaking news events, when vital information spreads quickly (for example, when Osama bin Laden was captured, there were several hashtags focused on that specific occurrence, like #OBL). If you’re a hospital, Twitter hashtags can be a great tool during natural disasters or other times when you must communicate quickly with a large audience.

Hashtags can also be used humorously or ironically. Often, people will Tweet something and use the hashtag as a sly comment. For example: “Just saw the line for the @justinbieber concert downtown. #girlsfaintingallovertheplace”

What is a Twitter list?

A Twitter list allows you to put people in categories so that you can more easily manage which Tweets belong to which interests. For example, you may follow cardiologists, health news sources and patients, and you can use a list to keep those Tweets separate.

To create a list, choose “Lists” and “Create a list.” You can name your list, make it public or private, and then add the pertinent followers. I find this feature to be easy and really convenient. Instead of a constant stream of Tweets, your information is organized and clearly accessible.

I’ve noticed that some people have “favorited” my Tweets. What does that mean and why do they do it?

To designate a Tweet as “favorite” means that the Tweeter liked your Tweet so much that he or she wants to save it for later. Other people visiting that person’s profile will also be able to see his or her list of favorites, which can give them an idea of that person’s interests and focus.

To create your own favorites list, click on the little star underneath a Tweet. It will turn yellow to mark that Tweet as a favorite and save it in your Favorites column, which you can view on your Twitter page by clicking on “Profile,” and then “Favorites.”

Often, I will use favorites in order to save a Tweet with a link that I’d like to read later. When I’ve gotten around to reading it, I simply click on the star again and it will turn back to clear and remove the Tweet from my favorites list.

I’ve notice that some people have customized backgrounds with their organization’s branding. How do I do that?

Creating a customized Twitter background is easy. You can either have your organization’s graphic designer create a customized image in Photoshop (since you want your Twitter background to be just as professional and consistently branded as all your other materials), or you can utilize free Twitter background tools like TwitBacks or Social Identities.

To change your background, select “Settings” in the top row of your Twitter menu, click on the “Design” tab, and change your background image and colors. You may need to play around with image positioning to get your design exactly right—and remember that people view Twitter on different sizes of monitors, so make your most important information visible to everyone.

How do I share photos or videos on Twitter?

If you’d like to share a photo or video on Twitter, you either have to upload that content to a website and link to that website, or use another Twitter application like TweetDeck or HootSuite, which allow you to upload a photo or video with your Tweet and even record video from your webcam. These applications are free and easy to use (see the next question).

How do I use outside Twitter applications?

Outside Twitter applications like TweetDeck and HootSuite make managing your Tweets easy while also offering features not available on the Twitter website, like columns, photo/video uploading, etc. I use TweetDeck and love the column feature, which allows me to add multiple columns based on hashtags I am consistently interested in (like #hcsm—which stands for healthcaresocialmedia).

There are also many Twitter applications for specific purposes, like getting more followers, scheduling tweets for later, etc. It’s impossible to cover all these apps here, but you can visit websites like TwitDom to get more information on all the choices available.

How do I make sure I don’t violate HIPAA?

Because you are Tweeting on behalf of your hospital, it is important to keep HIPAA in mind at all times. Never post information that may lead to the identification of a patient. However, many people are more open than others and may post private details about themselves. If this happens, make sure you respond quickly and appropriately. If the comment is in regard to a patient being cancer-free, a general response of congratulations is best. However, if the comment is more personal, and asks for medical advice, the best option is to take the conversation offline.

Through a direct message, you can ask the patient to call your hospital directly, making it clear that you will not communicate with them in a public setting. It is important that you make your Twitter account policies clear to your followers and let them know that if they have an emergency, to call 911. For more information on how to stay HIPAA compliant, you can download our free e-book here.

I hope these tips will help you continue on your way to successful Tweeting. However, if you have any questions that I haven’t addressed, please leave them in the comments.


How we help

Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop an effective social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.

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