Background: The National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), a program of the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health, was established to increase awareness among health professionals and the public of scientifically-based health information that can be applied to preserving sight and preventing blindness. Building a digital presence, specifically via the NEHEP website and social media platforms, has become central to these efforts.
Program background: NEHEP maintains a robust presence on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. While follower growth and engagement on NEHEP’s Facebook page has skyrocketed over the past year, growth on Twitter has not been as pronounced. As a way to increase reach and engagement, and find new avenues to promote eye health messages and resources, NEHEP has explored the use of Twitter Chats. In January and March 2015, NEHEP co-hosted Twitter Chats with Dr. Richard Besser from ABC News and with SaludToday. The topic for the Twitter Chat with Dr. Besser was glaucoma. The SaludToday chat focused on Latinos and eye health. NEHEP targeted these established Twitter Chats because of their pre-existing user base, prominent hosts, and large reach. Leveraging and building relationships with the hosts of these chats, NEHEP pitched timely and relevant eye health issues as potential chat topics and offered to co-host the chat. As a co-host, NEHEP had an opportunity to help shape the flow of the chat. This included providing chat questions, developing responses for internal use, creating a one-page brief on the chat topic for other co-hosts, and developing promotional materials and messages. NEHEP promoted the chat by leveraging online and offline channels, reaching out to a wide partnership network of eye health organizations and professionals. During the chat, NEHEP set up a physical base of operations, with an eye health expert on-site and multiple persons monitoring the conversation.
Evaluation Methods and Results: NEHEP evaluated the effectiveness of the Twitter Chat by examining the performance of the NEHEP Twitter account and the chat as a whole. Data was collected through Twitter, TweetReach, True Social Metrics, and data from Salud Today. NEHEP’s Twitter account had a reach of 56,632, gained 24 new followers, and received 273 re-tweets, 111 mentions, 87 favorites, and 2,687 clicks to the NEHEP website. NEHEP was also a top-three contributor in both chats. Combined, the chats had 2,224 tweets, 612 participating accounts, and 18,640,539 estimated impressions.
Conclusions: Twitter Chats are an effective way to increase engagement, drive traffic to an organization’s resources and website, and provide an outlet for joining the social media dialogue around a health issue. They also aid in building and maintaining relationships with leaders in public health community.
Implications for research and/or practice: In a climate where resources and funding are at a premium, Twitter Chats provide a cost-effective and low-effort way to increase an organization’s social media reach and influence. Additionally, by combining efforts with a larger and more established Twitter account, they provide new avenues for collaborative efforts and expose your messages to new audiences.