Many of the primary social media platforms in use have been around for five years or more. While the television took decades after its invention in the late 1920s to achieve widespread uptake, today new media platforms emerge, have startling uptake and are mainstreamed while they are essentially still in development. Some, like Google Wave, enter the scene, only to recede. And some, like Quora for example, experience fast growth rate before we even know what we are going to do with them.
Twitter, is a good example of that kind of platform that continues to evolve as we use it. When twitter first emerged, it was primarily comprised of young people broadcasting what they had for lunch (not really, but you know what I mean). Most people did not take Twitter seriously – it had a funny name (like Google isn’t a funny name) and it restricts the user to 140 characters. What can really be said in 140 characters or less? “Had tuna sandwich 4 lunch. Was Gud.”
Then, as more individuals utilized Twitter, some institutions started utilizing the medium to distribute press releases and other news. Not long after that, news outlets like CNN (over 1.8 million followers) and publications such as the New York Times (over 3 million twitter followers).
Then media outlets realized that the nature of social media was to appeal to increasingly granular interests. For example, I may want some news (health) but not all news (sports). Many outlets, accordingly, began to subdivide their twitter feeds by subject matter jurisdiction. CNN, for example, has multiple twitter outlets where you can subscribe to very specific subject matter.
Following the establishment of news outlets on Twitter came news reporters. For example, Jake Tapper who follows and reports on the news from President Obama for ABC News tweets regularly throughout the day, as does many of his colleagues. What one gets from these tweets are bits of news that one would never see in a report on the evening news. Or, some of the tweets may set up and promote what will be the report on the evening news. In other words, twitter is a way for reporters to provide insights and tidbits they normally might not get to, while also promoting their own work. In healthcare, there are a whole host of reporters on Twitter who are important to follow. Here are a few:
- Tara Parker Pope – New York Times
- Gina Kolata – New York Times
- Sanjay Gupta – CNN
- Kim Painter – USA Today
- Rita Rubin – USA Today
- Lisa Richwine – Reuters
- Matt Perrone – AP
This is to name a few. I have started an EyeonFDA Twitter list that contains only the tweets of healthcare beat reporters. Feel free to send me add-ons. But it is to say if you are in healthcare communications and you aren’t following these folks or other healthcare beat reporters, you have to ask yourself why not?
Why in the end then, is Twitter important, especially in healthcare?
- Twitter is often where news breaks first. If you miss it, then your missed it;
- The presence and participation of healthcare beat reporters is substantial. If you aren’t there, you aren’t;
- Twitter allows you to reach your friends – but also your friends’ friends – people you might not otherwise reach;
- Your message can be highly specific;
- Your audience can be highly targeted (Roche, for example, has twitter feeds that tweet very specific product news);
- Customers expect customer service via Twitter and if you aren’t there to provide it, someone else will be;
- If you want to be fast, you will use Twitter, if you want to be slow, you won’t, but someone else will get there first;
- There are no more regulatory constraints on Twitter than there are on a press release, you just have to know how to use it well.
That, in a nutshell, is the importance of being Twitter in healthcare communications.