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Clots in hospital: you are what you tweet


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Friday, 1 April 2011

Clots in hospital: you are what you tweet

Of all the marvellous inventions made possible by the Web, Twitter is probably the best.

The ability to broadcast messages of no more than 140 characters may not seem revolutionary. For anyone already convinced that blogging is a pointless distraction from the real world, microblogging is the square root of inconsequential. 

At the social end of the spectrum, the twittering can get loud and very boring – a 24 hour dawn chorus of ego-mania. But as someone once said about a state of nature, life on Twitter may sometimes be nasty and brutal but it is also mercifully short.

The really impressive thing, if you ignore what people actually say, is how Twitter allows connections to form. Following people in real life can get you arrested, but on Twitter it keeps you informed and entertained, while being followed means you’re popular – like being stalked with none of the disadvantages.

For anyone who still finds language interesting, the best thing about microblogging is the enforced brevity. 

140 characters amount to very roughly 20 words, plus spaces, which is about the length of this sentence. 

Any fool can write a short sentence. The trick is to make it sparkle so that others want to retweet it – Twitter parlance for spreading it around. 

Because the success of any post depends on other people, Twitter is completely democratic. Money, power and brand are irrelevant. Only the words count.

That will pose challenges for some of our favourite institutions. 

The Department of Health has embraced Twitter but while recent DH tweets show a basic grasp of the medium there is clearly still some way to go.

For instance, “Introduction to the national dementia strategy” is closely followed by a demented and unqualified tweet proclaiming MILLIONS OF PATIENTS SET TO BENEFIT FROM A MODERN NHS. The capital letters are for the benefit of everyone who agrees that shouting is the most effective form of communication. 

One of the other rules of tweeting is that basic laws of literacy still apply. This example from the DH Twitter feed is a handy and suitably concise how-not-to guide: “Andrew Lansley: consultation room becomes meeting place for 2 experts: clinician, and patient, who is expert in their own needs”

Is it attention grabbing? You wouldn’t ask if you had lived through “National Salt Awareness Week 2011”.

Twitter challenges us to say what we mean completely unambiguously and without relying on the context. The following line from a DH bulletin about pulmonary embolisms could easily have journalists reaching for the wrong end of the stick.

“Every year, an estimated 25,000 people in England die from these clots in hospital.”



shale says:
Apr 18, 2011 05:55 PM
I do digital communication for the Department of Health, and I'm intruiged by this blog.

Corporate tweeting is difficult to get right, not least because it's tricky to develop a tone of voice if you're writing on behalf of an institution. But also because it's tricky to have conversations if you're not a real person, and multimple authors can make engagement tricky. I can't find NHS Networks on Twitter so I assume you've decided that the risks outweight the benefits.

For me, the benefits of being in this space are signigficant. Our @dhgovuk Twitter channel enables us to market ideas and share announcements with an audience of more than 10,000 people who have chosen to follow us. Not many other mediums give us that kind of instant reach and opportunity for engagement.

Of course, it goes a bit wrong sometimes, and when it goes wrong it goes wrong in public. The capital letters tweet was the result of a flawed devolved tweeting process (which we've now solved). It made us look silly and it completely undermined the intended message.

But it's a bit cheeky of you to quote a tweet from a live event out of context, and criticise the literacy, particularly as you removed the hashtag that linked the tweet to a live conversation. We're doing more live tweeting, and I think it's a good use of the medium. I'm not that bothered if we sometimes misuse a semi-colon - I've found twitter users pretty forgiving - particularly if we're trying to do something useful.

But corporate tweeting is all very well. I'm actually far more interested in using the medium for people to share thoughts and have conversations. So I think it's more interesting for example that we now have people tweeting in a personal-professional capacity at the Department of Health (see: http://twitter.com/AmyatDH). I suspect that putting a name to a face to a twitter account will lead to far more useful and interesting engagement than is possible from a corporate profile.

In fact I think that this kind of real-person engagement is fairly crucial if we're going to do digital engagement effectively - I'm not sure who the I'm replying to here, but I know that my commment will be more effective more because I'm transparent that it's me writing it.

Stephen Hale - Head of digital communication at DH (and @hmshale on Twitter)

BTW, I tried to post a comment when I first saw this article last week by following the "Comment on this article" link in the email, but the link didn't work. A small UX problem, I think caused by your emails sent out before you publish?
bgcooper says:
Apr 18, 2011 05:55 PM
I think I'll need to consult Professor Brian Cox's new book, just to find our which planet the Editor is actually on!!
PFrisby says:
Apr 18, 2011 05:55 PM
Commenting on naively pro-Liberation item on Social Enterprises

Established Social Enterprises a very different animal from those being created now to host NHS providers.
Its important to the government that these new social enterprises won't be statutory services and can fail, alonmgside Foundation Trusts, and let the private sector in - the real objective of all these changes.