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How a Twitter Chat about Healthy Aging Reached More than 4 Million People

There are multiple health-related Twitter chats every day of the week. There are chats focused on specific conditions, on the healthcare system, on treatments, on products and on practices. If your agency or organization is interested in leading a conversation in this sphere, it can be a challenge to have your voice heard and messages shared in an impactful way.

On Wednesday, April 29, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a Twitter chat on healthy aging, with a specific focus on mind and body approaches such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation. By the end of the hour, our Center’s #AgeWellChat reached more than four million accounts and received more than 41 million impressions. In terms of numbers, this was our most successful chat to date, with a 78 percent increase in reach from our previous chat about the use of natural products.

DigitalGov has guidance for federal agencies that want to host Twitter chats, and a few years ago, I wrote about the importance of collaboration for Twitter chat success. These types of collaborations remain a necessary component when hosting a chat, but I’ve learned that there are a few additional elements that can transform your good Twitter chat into a great one.

  1. Promote, promote, promote.

    If you have the time to plan your chat in advance, take two weeks to promote it. Start with a “Save the Date” tweet to let your community know that the conversation is going to take place. As you get closer to the chat, promote more frequently. If you’re working with a shorter, one week or less time frame, promote your chat every day leading up to your event.

  2. Build relationships, online and off.

    Some of the success we’ve had in encouraging people and organizations to join our chats has been through outreach that takes place on Twitter (a direct tweet to an organization’s or individual’s handle that might be interested in the conversation), but also by reaching out to social media managers via email. I’ve found that by connecting person to person instead of handle to handle, foundations for strong partnerships are developed.

  3. Use a topical hashtag.

    This has been a new discovery for us. For three of the four years we’ve been hosting Twitter chats, we used a hashtag that was tied to our Center name. Every chat took place using the same hashtag. But over the course of the past six months we’ve started incorporating topic-based hashtags that change with each chat. We’ve found that this may help bring people into the conversation who may not have seen our promotion. The topic-based hashtag allows them to instantly learn what the chat is about and join in if they have an interest.

  4. Pick relevant and interesting topics.

    Pain is the top condition for why people turn to complementary health approaches, such as yoga, tai chi, massage, and spinal manipulation. In addition, according to a recent nationwide survey [PDF], the use of yoga in older adults has tripled from 2002 to 2012. By framing our #AgeWellChat around the mind and body approaches that older adults are using, and why they’re using them, we were able to tap in to a relevant conversation and reach an engaged and receptive audience.

  5. Say thank you.

    Being polite, and appreciating the input your community provides, goes a long way. Say thank you when fans and partners promote your chat and when they join in the conversation. Let them know you see them, and you hear them.

Many Institutes and Centers at the NIH have led successful Twitter chats in collaboration with outside organizations. For example, last December experts from the NIH and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute participated in a chat about the National Geographic documentary Sleepless in America. In September, the National Cancer Institute led a discussion with a number of NIH Institutes and Centers as well as hospitals, such as MD Anderson, on cancer pain.

These conversations provide important opportunities for spreading the word about our health resources. At NCCIH, we hope to continue this trend in reach that we’re seeing as we are working with our communities on the topics that mean the most to them, answering their questions, and sharing the information they want and need.

Yasmine Kloth is a Digital and Social Media Strategist and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health.

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