Social media has helped enable a shift from passive involvement to active participation, the ability to influence decisions - and to make a difference in the world.

As the article this post links to describes, consultation or focus groups are not enough. Traditional consultation and focus groups are often about disseminating information, about 'telling', rather than co-producing and working together to make improvements.

Twitter in particular helps democratise engagement, especially in health and care. You can collaborate, and share ideas with people you might not ordinarily have had the opportunity to meet 'in real life'. You don't have to wait to be asked for your views or opinions, or for an invitation to participate: Twitter helps bridge networks and mobilise communities working towards a common aim. 

I have personal experience of the power of Twitter: I have used it as a platform for campaigning for better support for bereaved parents. As a result I have helped influence a range of improvements, and even been invited to speak on the issue at the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

In my professional role, too, while leading Twitter chats I have proudly witnessed networks being bridged, new connections made - and at times been profoundly moved by the generosity of people taking the time to share their experiences, what is going well, and where improvements can be made.

I am often asked for hints and tips about social media influence and spread, so thought I would share these in my posts. My first post focuses on Twitter chats. 

Twitter chats are just one of many possible methods of genuine engagement and co-production in healthcare, by which patients and staff can work together to create change. A benefit of Twitter chats is that they provide a huge avenue for participation. For example, you aren't limited by the size of the room as you might be with traditional'meetings; travel time is not an issue as you can get involved from the comfort of your sofa if you choose, and people from all over the country (even the world!) can participate.

Some tips for running a successful Twitter chat include:

  • Ask relevant communities on Twitter to help spread the word - find your people, seek out appropriate hashtags relevant to your chat. People are always happy to help retweet and share.
  • If you’re asking for feedback and/or experiences relating to a particular project or issue, create a graphic to explain the context and background and/or link to a webpage providing this information. It helps people understand why you are holding the chat, and that giving up time during their evening is worthwhile!
  • Create some questions – a maximum of four for an hour’s tweet chat. Schedule them in (you can use a tool such as Tweetdeck or Buffer, for example) so they will appear at appropriate regular intervals during the hour. This is particularly useful if your chat is busy - it's easy to lose track of time!
  • Give yourself adequate time to create your questions – making sure they are open, genuine, free of jargon, and in plain English. 
  • If a corporate account if hosting the chat, it is a good idea for  whomever is leading the chat to introduce themselves at the beginning – this helps tweeters see that they are chatting with a human being rather than a faceless organisation.
  • Ask your tweeters to introduce themselves. I reply to the introductions thanking people by name for taking the time to join in, and welcoming them to the chat.
  • Remember that people will be sharing their personal experiences - always treat everyone with respect, show kindness and compassion.
  • Where relevant, ask people for further information or clarity about what they have tweeted. If there is a particularly poignant or insightful comment, I’ll reflect back what the person has said to help them know it’s been taken account of.
  • Remind people to use the relevant hashtag so you can find all the tweets!
  • Twitter chats can often get very busy, and keeping up with all the notifications can be challenging, no matter how fast you type! I make a point of responding to every single person who has taken the time to contribute - even if it takes a couple of days.
  • Remind people how you are using their responses, where it is being fed in to, and make sure you feedback to them.
  • Encourage people to keep the conversation going beyond the tweet chat.
  • Archive the chat using a tool such as Storify (which sadly is going to be defunct in a couple of months!) or Wakelet so that the chat provides a useful resource to anyone interested in the topic.

Have you got experience of leading or being involved in Twitter chats? Are there any tips you would add?