We asked DHHS Social Media Manager Mike Newton-Ward to give us a sense of how Twitter has become the department’s social media of choice, his interest in Twitter, and how it will help DHHS provide better customer service. An edited transcript of that interview follows:
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How and when did you become involved in social media, and Twitter in particular?
I’ve worked in state government in DHHS for 29 years, mostly in Public Health and some time in Mental Health, and I’ve always been interested in communicating the information our programs have in order to help people around the state live healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Most of the work I’ve done in Public Health involves communication with our client base or our partners that we work with around the state.
I had heard about various social media for several years. My first response was what good is it? Why would anyone want to know what I had for lunch and what good was that?
Then in 2005 or 2006 I was at a conference and the speaker told us of the potential of social media to get into the everyday lives of the people we are trying to reach, and I felt my brain shifting, and I thought I’ve got to get in social media, and it would be a great way for us to communicate with the people we serve.
So I began learning everything I could about the social media platforms, experimenting, playing with them, so I could be prepared if the Department was ever ready to use it, I would be ahead of the game and help us to realize how we could make the most of it.
In Public Health we started educating ourselves about various social media platforms – Twitter, Blogging and Facebook – and started doing some strategic planning. We decided on Twitter for several reasons. First, because you are limited to 140 characters for message length, we thought it would be an easy learning curve for our programs to use. Second, from our research, we knew a lot of the groups we wanted to reach, including the media, followed Twitter, so it made sense to use Twitter to reach those groups. Plus, with a 140-word limit, we knew we would have to be concise in our messaging.
What has Twitter done for Public Health?
We launched in August 2012, so we have had an account just over a year in public health – we were particularly interested in providing information to local health departments and other health agencies. As our partners, they in turn could provide the information to their clients around the state. So we have used it to share information about several things: anytime there’s been breaking public health news, like an outbreak of food-borne illness, or some communicable disease.
Each month has public health themes set nationally – and so we use our Twitter account to provide information that people can use around those health issues like how to limit their risk for heart disease, diabetes, protect yourself from heat related illnesses in the summer, etc.
Over the year, we have built up this large following of people who are interested in Public Health. It basically increases our ability to communicate because those people and organizations serve as extra forces and serve as our sales force to tell our story – so it really amplifies our ability to get our message out.
What do you expect Twitter to do for DHHS?
Basically, it is the same thing as for Public Health. It gives us additional voices – sales force – to get our message out. And it does give us an opportunity to listen to what people in the state are saying in response to our message.
Is there any way to measure the usefulness of Tweets?
There are several ways – there are various evaluation tools, either as part of Twitter or that you can add on from other sources, like Google, so you can see some simple evaluations, such as whether people actually are repeating or re-tweeting the message, which would indicate they see some value in it, or whether people are clicking on some links that you embed. There are also some robust evaluation services out there to measure extent of engagement, positive/negative comments, and things like that, which can be useful.
Has it already been done within DHHS?
We are setting up those basic analytical features for our Twitter account so we can start measuring those things, like if we put a URL, how many people actually click on it and go to the website, and how long do they stay on the web site.
Is Twitter interactive? Will people be Tweeting back to you?
Yes, people can respond back and it is also interactive in that they can share our tweets with their family, friends and networks.
What do we do with the feedback we receive?
I share the feedback with others in the Communications Office so that we can determine the best response.
Will we need to have Twitter accounts to see Tweets?
You do not need a Twitter account to see our tweets. You can go to www.twitter.com/NC_DHHS to see our latest tweets.
Are there any times when Tweeting has been particularly useful?
Twitter is especially useful in emergencies and urgent situations, such as a disease outbreak or a natural disaster like a hurricane or an ice storm. In Public Health, we used Twitter to communicate information about how people could prevent themselves from becoming ill or protect themselves. We could tell them where to go for protective immunizations or how to obtain safe drinking after a storm or, better yet, how to build an emergency disaster kit or make a family disaster plan before the fact.
So Tweeting has a day-to-day and a crisis role. Can you elaborate?
Yes! And one thing that makes Twitter very useful in an emergency situation is that short tweets may go through jammed lines of communication more easily than voice or longer text messages. With much of the population having smart phones or other mobile devices, tweets are especially useful to get the useful information to the people who most need it.
Is there a cost involved to receive Tweets?
There is no monetary cost. The service is provided at no charge.