The First Steps In Using Twitter For Health, Education And Research


Long read – 15min

Twitter is an ideal platform for health, education and research. But it’s clear that Twitter is under-utilised for these purposes. Why? Well, there are many perceived barriers to the effective use of Twitter. These include:

  • concerns about professional behaviour on social media in general
  • lack of training and low confidence in using Twitter
  • widespread belief that Twitter is only used for inane chatter
  • a feeling that using Twitter will eat up too much valuable time

The first steps

This is for newbies. We are all newbies in everything at some stage. This part summarises my own approach when I started Twitter. This approach may not suit you. There are many good blogs on how to use Twitter. What I write is what I found difficult to understand at the start. 

Let’s start.

First up, there is nothing special about Twitter

It’s just a blog

A really short blog. Often called a microblog

Yes, yes, I know, it’s optimized for accessibility, and has lots of buttons, and a
different language, but really, it’s just a short blog

 So, let’s compare the usual blog with Twitter.

BTW I use Twitter a lot, but I am not an expert.






1.What is the maximum word count?

No maximum. Warning: Most people lose interest after 300 words (PS A Table is not included in word count)

140 characters. Yep, that includes spaces and punctuation

2. What is the name given to the written words?

A piece. A post

A Tweet

3. What is a dumb way to read these words?

Log on to the person’s blog regularly via Google. It’s public. You can read and interact (see below)

Log on to the person’s Twitter home page via Google regularly. It’s public. You can
read only

4. What is a smart way to read these words?

Enable email notifications or RSS link (usually available)

Register with Twitter
(it’s free) (see below). Follow people. How? Search on Google for say ‘Stephen Fry Twitter’ and you will find his Twitter home page. Hit Follow. OR you can search for him from within Twitter using the Search button. You can always unfollow him. Hit Unfollow

5. Where do the words go?

In the blog’s URL site. If you create a blog, it goes to your blog site

In the Twitter Feed. If you create a tweet, it goes to your Followers’ Twitter Feed (often called a Timeline). A record of the tweets you create also goes on your own home page.

6. Is there software for these platforms?

Yes eg WordPress

Yes eg Twitter (the original) but many others (mostly apps) eg Tweetbot (my favourite), Tweetings, Tweetcaster, Echofon, Hootsuite and more. All do the same thing, but spending a couple of dollars often gets you more user-friendly software. Most users have
third-party software

7. How do I broadcast my words?

Write and post. The words are seen by anyone who logs on to your blog.

Hit New Tweet (often a pencil diagram). A box appears. Write your message and hit Send (tweet). The words are seen by anyone who logs on to your Twitter homepage by searching for your Twitter account on Google. More importantly, it automatically goes into the Feed or Timeline
of all your followers

8. Do I have to broadcast any words?

No, but that would be dumb. It would be a blank page that no-one would see

No, but that can be cool, because 40% of people never tweet! They just like to read what Stephen Fry and Lady GaGa and Barrack Obama have to say. Following people without broadcasting or interacting is called lurking. Despite what some right-wing Twitterati (people who tweet) say, there is nothing wrong with lurking. Especially if
you just want to acquire regular information on a topic.

9. How do I keep to my word limit?

That’s your problem, not mine

That’s Twitter’s problem, not yours. A character number counts down as you type, showing you how many are left. If you go over 140, the tweet cannot be sent. BTW it’s nice to leave about 15 characters spare when you tweet. It allows people to add a brief comment when they RT you (RT??? See below)

10. How do I interact with someone’s words?

Write a comment after someone’s blog

Write a comment after someone’s Tweet.

There are several ways. Stay with me, folks,
this is the only tricky bit

(1)  Just Retweet (RT) the tweet. You hit the Retweet
button (usually twin curved arrows) then the ‘automatic’ or ‘retweet to followers’ tag (or similar). It is sent without any edits. It implies that you think it’s worth
other people reading it. It goes to your followers but looks exactly like THE ORIGINAL tweet. The person who wrote the original tweet can find out that you retweeted it by checking his or her Retweets folder.

(2) Add a comment to a RT. You hit the Retweet button (usually twin curved arrows) then the Quote tag (or similar). The original tweet appears in a window for you to modify.
You can add something like ‘WoW!’ Or ‘Yuk!’ Or ‘Worth reading’. NB Total must be under 140 characters so you may have to edit the original Tweet.  If edited, it’s polite to then change
the letters before the original tweet from RT (which appear automatically in a retweet) to MT (modified tweet). The person who wrote the original tweet knows you have quoted their tweet because your quoted tweet appears in their Mentions folder. And it also goes to all your
followers and looks like one of YOUR tweets

(3) Directly to a Tweeter: This is like having a conversation. You select their tweet, hit the Reply button, a window appears with only their handle in the space, you make a comment about their tweet, and hit Send. You do not reproduce any part of their original tweet. Your reply appears in their Mentions folder above their original tweet. This goes to the person you reply to, and to anyone who follows BOTH you and the other person. The conversation can be continued by anyone listed in the previous sentence. If 4 people are talking, all their handles appear at the start of the space when replying

11. What is a handle?

It’s a nickname. In a blog, it implies that the author wants to remain anonymous

It’s a nickname. But Twitter wants you to have a Twitter handle. They call it a Username. It’s @ followed by the handle, like my handle @AllergyNet. Twitter also wants you to register your name too, which appears with your Username. But see below under Anonymous

12. Only 300 words for a blog, or 140 characters for a tweet! How can I get
comprehensive information from these platforms?

The blog often has links

The tweet often has links. Hit the link and it opens. You can create links a
couple of ways. If you have your twitter account loaded on your computer,
when you come to, say, a document or story that you want to tweet, it often
has ‘Tweet (this)’ somewhere, usually at the top of the page. Or there is a Share button. You hit that button, a space appears with an automatically shortened
link (to save characters!), you add a comment up to the 140 characters, and Send. It is sent to your followers. OR you can copy a link, insert it into
a New Tweet on your Twitter page, shorten the link by clicking the ‘shorten’ symbol, add a comment, and send. You can send pics and videos too. You just get a link, and it’s shortened by you or automatically.

13. I’m a little overwhelmed. What should I do?

Have a cup of tea, and google the blog ‘Starts With a Bang’ by Ethan Siegel. Have a quiet read

Have a cup of tea, and google the tweets of “@DrVes twitter”. Have a quiet scroll. Click on some of the links that appear in his tweets

14. Can I interact privately?

You can, by finding the blogger’s email and emailing them, or finding their phone number and calling them

You can, by sending the author of the tweet a Direct Message or DM. It appears in their column called Messages. This is the only type of tweet that is not public!! BUT the person who receives your DM can make it public (they don’t usually, but they can)

15. Can I be anonymous?


Yes. (but see below) When you register, Twitter asks for your name. You can give a false name. You are also asked for an email. You can create an interim email address. You are asked to create a Twitter handle. The handle is, ipso facto, anonymous

16. Should I be anonymous?

If you are blogging on science or health matters as an expert, my opinion is NO

If you are tweeting on science or health matters as an expert, my opinion is NO. EXCEPT at the start just to get used to Twitter (see below)

17. What is my ‘profile’?

It’s usually somewhere on the Home page labelled ‘About…’

It’s what you set up when you register with Twitter (see below). On your profile page you will see some information apart from your own details. ‘Following’
are people you follow. ‘Followers’ are people who follow you

18. How can I start?

Suck it and see. Set up a blog page and write.

Suck it and see. I recommend that you set up an anonymous account. (see above). For your Bio just write Lover of Life or
something inane. Use the generic avatar. Follow say 5 celebrities and 10
experts in your area of expertise, or whose opinions you value.  Your institution will have a Twitter account. Look at who they follow and who follows them. When you find them just click Follow. Their tweets will then appear in your Timeline. If they or anyone mentions you (like ‘thanks for the Follow’), just disregard them. After a while, ask a friend who is on Twitter to practise broadcasting and interacting with you. When you are confident, delete your account and set up your proper account in your name. For your proper account, write a proper bio, and insert a nice avatar of your face. If you are an expert in anything, people like to see your face. When you are live and not anonymous, and people talk to you on Twitter, you
should answer them.

19. What is a hashtag # ?

Here it’s just a hashtag

A # in front of any word earmarks that word in Twitter as having its own separate category. You can then look at tweets containing that hash tagged word and follow those tweets. For example, if you want to know what people
are saying about chardonnay then just search #chardonnay. Scientific meetings
often have hashtags. Just save it and check on the
meeting Feed while the meeting is on. Hashtags can just be amusing without denoting anything else. You might tweet a link to something you are reading and write: ‘Factors that determine marital bliss #HappyWifeHappyLife <link>’. But don’t overdo it.

20. What are lists?

Well, if you write down a list of things or people or stuff on your blog, that is a list

Twitter has a button called Lists. It allows you to put anyone you follow, and even people you don’t follow, into lists. You might have a list called AllergyImmune like I do. I stick all the Allergy community that I want into that list. When
I want to just look at that group, I open the AllergyImmune
timeline. This saves me from going through my entire Feed if I just want to update myself on the allergy and immunology tweets. You can make your lists public or private. I keep mine public. That way people can follow my list. I can also follow other people’s lists. Whew!

21. What do I do about spam?

It happens. You can check comments before they are posted

It happens. Not often. If it’s unpleasant, press the Block button. If it’s
clearly robotic and selling something, or if it’s nasty, press the Report button as well.

22. How can I remain professional while broadcasting words or interacting with someone else’s words?

Pretend that you are addressing a room full of people. Pretend that all your followers, and maybe another 200 random people including your employer, members of the traditional media and your patients/teachers/co-workers are in the room.

Pretend that you are addressing a room full of people. Pretend that all your followers, and maybe another 200 random people including your employer, members of the traditional media and your patients/teachers/co-workers are in the room.

23. Can I get more information?

Is the Pope a Catholic? Google ‘WordPress 101’

Is the Pope a Catholic? Read through Twitter on Wikipedia to get background. Then google ‘Twitter 101’

24. Is there more?


No. OK then, yes. But you don’t really need more now.  After a couple of weeks you’ll know it all

25. PS Can I set up notifications so I know when words appear?

Yes. Via your email or RSS settings

Yes. Via your Twitter settings

26. PPS How can I stop wasting time on social media?

Be tech-savvy with the platform you are using. Be smart. Be selective. Stop
reading this and do some real work

Be tech-savvy with the platform you are using. Be smart. Be selective. Stop
reading this and do some real work

Once you have embraced Twitter, then you can work on: 

Focus, efficiency, and time management


Peak performance and limitations

You may also wish to read more from previous posts:

You CAN enjoy Twitter without tweeting

Medicine, Social Media and Clinical Excellence






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