Promoting important messages is quick and easy with Twitter. Prompts to students about meningitis vaccinations; information about bank holiday out-of-hours services; reminders to patients to book a flu jab – these are just a few examples to show how Twitter can be used to help your practice communicate effectively.
Before you start
A key consideration before using Twitter is that like all social media, it is intended to be a two-way communication so you should expect people to interact with your messages. There is likely to be public dialogue between you and your followers so be prepared and have a plan for both positive and negative events.
You will need to get to grips with the jargon:
Tweet: A message of no more than 140 characters (letters, numbers, punctuation and spaces).
Like: When someone clicks on the heart icon below a Tweet to show they agree or like the content.
Follower: Someone who has chosen to see your messages on Twitter.
Direct message: Allows you to exchange private messages with your followers.
Retweet: When someone forwards your message to all their followers.
Reply: When someone replies directly to a Tweet. It usually includes the original Twitter username (eg @gpsurgerynet) and appears next to the original Tweet in the Timeline.
Timeline – A chronological list of activity on Twitter.
Mention – when your username is included in a Tweet.
Promoted Tweet – Advertising that appears in your timeline but looks like a Tweet.
Preparing to set up an account
Creating an account only takes a few minutes. Before you start prepare these items to make it a smooth process. Include the key decision makers at this stage.
- Decide on the email address that will be used to manage the account. Ideally use a generic practice email account not a personal one. For example, using email@example.com will ensure the practice, not an individual, keeps control of the account.
- You can associate a mobile phone number with the practice Twitter account but again make sure it is a practice phone not a personal one. There is more information about the benefits of associating a mobile phone with your Twitter account here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/20172029
- If you can use a mobile phone, then Twitter will send an SMS text to confirm it is your phone. You will need this message to continue the signup.
- Choose a full name for your account. This will be visible so the name of your surgery would be ideal.
- Prepare a Profile photo (400×400 pixels) and Header photo (1500×500 pixels). A good panoramic photo of your surgery as the header and the NHS logo for the profile image work well.
Creating the account
- Go here https://twitter.com/signup
- Fill in the full name, email/phone and password fields
- Click Sign up
- Select a username (these must be unique so be prepared to accept a slightly different version if the one you want has been taken. Make sure any decision makers are nearby!)
Check everything and click Create my account.
You can find full instructions here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/100990
Once the practice account is set up, and before you do anything else, check the settings to see what notifications you will receive about your Twitter activity:
- Log in to Twitter.
- Click your profile icon top right and select Settings from the drop down menu.
- Click on Email notifications from the settings sidebar.
- Check or uncheck the notification boxes to reflect your email preferences.
- Start off with everything ticked. You can always reduce them later.
- Click Save changes.
Customise the practice profile
You have control over the look and feel of your new Twitter account, with options for adding profile and header images.
- Make sure you are logged in to Twitter.
- Click on the profile icon top right and click the small text link ‘View profile’.
- Click the large Edit profile button below your header photo on the right.
- The Profile and Header images will now have prominent buttons to allow you to upload your prepared images.
- You can also edit other details including your full name, description, location, website address and choose a primary theme colour.
- Save your changes to see how you look.
Create a simple Twitter policy
Next agree a practice policy on Tweeting, Following, Retweeting, Replying and Liking.
Establish some simple but carefully worded rules about using the practice Twitter account and share them with anyone who has access to the account.
Rules could be as simple as:
- Only publish Tweets that have been agreed by the practice manager
- Only publish Tweets that are useful to patients
- If a negative public Tweet mentions the practice
- Share the exact wording with the practice manager immediately
- Respond to the Tweet only with the authorisation of the practice manager who will decide on an appropriate response.
- Monitor subsequent Tweets closely until the situation has been resolved.
- If the Tweet is unhelpful ask the person writing the message if they will agree to take the discussion offline and for the message to be removed
- For positive comments post a reply from one of a pre-agreed set of standard statements.
Build your community
Follow the Twitter accounts of relevant organisations. They may follow you back and you can Retweet their messages to your followers. @bbcweather for hot or cold weather warnings; @NHSChoices for health advice; and @macmillancancer for support might be good examples. There may be other more local organisations you should consider following but be selective. It isn’t about the number of accounts the practice follows but the quality and relevance of their messages to your patients.
Should you follow a patient?
This is worth considering very carefully. We would suggest that you do NOT follow patients. This is to ensure that they don’t try and send you a Direct Message for urgent or sensitive clinical advice. If you don’t follow them they are unable send you a Direct Message. They can still send a public message.
Some practices make it clear in their profile description when they reply to Tweets (eg 9-5 Mon-Fri) and include an Out of Hours number.
How to Tweet?
To publish your own Tweet write in the box at the top of your Home page.
- Click Home in the top menu to make sure you are on your Home page
- Type into the box that contains the words “What’s happening?”
- Click the Tweet button to publish
You need to limit the number of characters you use to 140. If you use too many characters you will see a negative number below the box and you will need to edit the message.
You can add images to your Tweet by using the camera icon/button below the box.
You can even add a Poll to your Tweet if you want to test public opinion.
You Reply to a Tweet by clicking on the left-facing arrow below the message.
You Reteet by clicking the two arrows chasing each other below the message.
And you Like a Tweet by clicking on the heart icon below the message.
When and what to Tweet
It can help to agree a set time and frequency for your practice Tweets. The content can be agreed in advance at regular practice meetings.
If you Tweet too often you risk overwhelming your followers and they might unfollow you or mute your messages (this hides your messages from their Timeline).
Remember you are Tweeting as a GP practice not an individual. Your Tweets should relate to your practice, local community or health matters.
Repeating a Tweet that contains really important information (eg phone lines down, unexpected closures) is fine. Unlike a lot of other social media you can do this on Twitter without causing offence.
Ultimately only publish what is useful and relevant for your patients.
In addition to publishing your own practice Tweets you should consider other interactions.
Retweeting can be seen as endorsing an opinion, organisation or even clinical advice. Consider each Retweet as carefully as you would when you write your own Tweets.
Positive interactions include patients Retweeting your message to all of their contacts to spread the word. When patients Like your Tweet it will help you gauge how useful your message was and increase the visibility of that message.
If someone Replies to your Tweet you can thank them by Liking their reply or even Reply to them if appropriate.
Tone of voice
Use your account for positive community minded messages. You could congratulate fund raisers, thank staff and patients for something they have done and always support your PPG activity. Keeping the tone positive will help maintain an upbeat character for your practice Twitter account.
If you do get negative interactions or complaints deal with them as soon as possible. Follow your Twitter policy (see above) and manage them as professionally as you would a written or verbal complaint.
Keep it going
Finally, having a dormant Twitter account does not create a good impression for the practice. If you are unable to keep up with regular, timely messages then Twitter isn’t working for your practice and it is best to remove your account as soon as possible. You can do this via the last option on the Account Settings page by clicking ‘Deactivate my account’.
Author: Tim Green
Practice website expert and co-founder of GPsurgery.net, Tim Green has been helping practice managers improve their patient communications for over 10 years.