#Health in 140 characters or less

Finding a space for using Twitter in a healthcare setting can sometimes be a little tricky. There are many issues to consider such as confidentiality, regulatory requirements and perhaps even the perception by some that Twitter is not a suitable setting for health discussions.

However, the social media phobes amongst us in the healthcare industry strongly need to reconsider their aversion if a recent article in the Health Service Journal is anything to go by. They analysed the use of Twitter as a communications platform for NHS Trust chiefs. Their investigations concluded that more than a third of NHS chiefs are now using Twitter as a means of keeping in contact with staff and exchanging ideas in order to drive better practice.  Gavin Boyle, chief executive of Chesterfield Royal Hospital Foundation Trust is just one of the chiefs quoted in the article who says he uses Twitter as a staff engagement tool, with over two thirds of his followers being hospital employees.

It’s not only those at the higher management level of the NHS that are now embracing Twitter as a means of engagement.  The #hellomynameis campaign started by Dr Kate Granger @GrangerKate is a wonderful example of using Twitter to develop better relationships between frontline NHS staff and patients. When she was diagnosed with cancer Granger became acutely aware of the lack of interaction between doctors and their patients.  Unfortunately, when she received treatment last year for a routine kidney stent replacement, she discovered that more often than not she did not receive even a simple introduction by the members of staff providing her treatment.

In light of this, Kate invited healthcare staff to pledge their support and commit to introducing themselves properly to patients, spreading her message using #hellomynameis. The campaign has gained considerable traction, with many NHS trusts around the country encouraging their staff to embrace its message.


We have noticed the effectiveness of Twitter for our own clients.  Just recently we were trying to reach a number of leading cancer influencers in the UK on behalf of a client who had compelling data around a new diagnostic they are developing.  One of them in particular remained unresponsive to phone calls and emails.  We decided to Tweet him a link to news around the published data and within hours he had replied requesting that we arrange a meeting.  He is now in advanced discussions with the client about running their next clinical trial.

On a global scale, Twitter is being utilised for its ability to reach millions of people and collect lots of valuable data. The Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics based in Penn State University is developing algorithms that will harness Twitter as a disease surveillance tool, crowd sourcing information shared by millions of Tweeters in an effort to identify public health issues as they emerge.

These are just a few examples of the wonderful uses for Twitter in healthcare.  So whether you want to use Twitter for tracking down that elusive key opinion leader or be at the fore front of the health crowd sourcing movement, there really are no more excuses. Please share any examples of Twitter being used in healthcare in the comments section below!

Health Awareness Days or Viral Campaigns?

Earlier this week World Health Day, a yearly initiative developed by the World Health Organisation was celebrated around the globe. The emphasis this year was on highlighting the dangers of vector borne diseases.

Awareness days of health and wellbeing initiatives are now a common fixture, especially working in the area of healthcare PR. A week doesn’t go by without another awareness day popping up on my Twitter timeline or catching my eye while doing daily news scans. However there is a danger of an influx of awareness days cluttering the collective consciousness of the general public. For instance, there is a quite a lengthy list on the NHS Employers website of just some of the forthcoming awareness days.

To combat the inertia surrounding awareness days, patient organisations are having to think outside the box and are coming up with other ways to grab the public’s attention. A photo call with a B-list celebrity endorsement is probably no longer going to be enough to capture the imagination.

The recent success of the #nomakeupselfie which started as an unofficial fundraising and awareness campaign, resulted in raising over £8million for Cancer Research UK by simply harnessing the latest viral trend that is the selfie.


Pancreatic Cancer Action drew attention to their cause by placing emphasis on the fact that it doesn’t receive as much attention as other cancers with a campaign that ran with the tagline “I wish I had breast cancer”. I for one was shocked to learn that pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of cancer research funding despite being the fifth deadliest cancer in the UK. The campaign came under severe criticism from other groups and individuals, but pancreatic cancer survivor and founder of Pancreatic Cancer Action, Ali Stunt, staunchly defended the campaign reiterating that ultimately the message is coming from real pancreatic cancer sufferers who wish they had a better prognosis.


I wish i had breast cancer

The #nomakeupselfie and Pancreatic Cancer Action are two awareness campaigns that have certainly generated a huge amount of PR for different charities in recent months. Will we see a shift away from awareness days being just another day in the calendar towards new, social media based viral campaigns? Are there any viral awareness campaigns that have caught your attention recently? Please share in the comments sections below!


When #PricelessSurprises became #CostlyMistakes

We wouldn’t have wanted to be in House PR’s shoes yesterday.  No, not even a ticket to the Brit Awards (and the remote possibility of rubbing shoulders with David Bowie), would have made us change places with them after the furore that blew up on Twitter around #PricelessSurprises for their client MasterCard.  So what did House PR do that was so wrong?

The agency committed what is commonly known in the PR world as the eighth deadly sin.  They presumed to tell a journalist what they should write.  They used the sought-after Brit Awards press seat allocation as collateral, dangling the tickets tantalisingly in front of some of the UK’s top showbiz reporters, in return for an agreed list of specific coverage. This even included a suggested Tweet for each journalist to cut and paste.

The relationship between hack and PR professional is a delicate thing, and it’s driven by our news media’s need for authenticity and balance.  There is a fine, unspoken line that both parties respect and don’t cross. For the journalist,  this means cutting the PR person enough slack to let them ask for a brand or website mention in the article that they, after all, supplied the idea, spokespeople, evidence and statistics for. Within the boundaries of good balance and objectivity, sometimes a journalist will be able to do exactly that.

For the PR person, this means perhaps working some of the brand’s key messages into the story that they pass on or perhaps supplying an image or b-roll that incorporates client branding in it. Or even perhaps asking in a slightly embarrassed, humble tone, if they would mind awfully, if it’s not too much trouble, mentioning their client by name in their piece. But true PR professionals never, ever presume to have rights over what the journalist will finally publish. Once that line is crossed, the trusted relationship is over.  Which does nobody any favours.

Telegraph Mandrake columnist, Tim Walker has pointed out, what House PR should have done is to pay for advertising alone.  This, in marketing terms, is how you control what appears in the press and is posted on social channels.  Well, direct advertising is probably not the right medium for subtle brand placement.  But there are an increasing number of other forms of paid and owned media that could have been explored. A paid blogging programme for example, could have delivered the brand mentions and hashtags that they were looking to journalists for. Not to mention targeted, sponsored posts on Linkedin.  House PR was already paying to promote #PricelessSurprises on Twitter and we’re pretty sure, if they’d just asked the journalists that were invited to the Brit Awards to use that hashtag, most of them probably would have done so.

As it stands, #PricelessSurprises was hijacked yesterday by just about every p*ssed off hack in London and yet was still promoted all day. But then there’s no such thing as bad PR, so they say…

It might not have helped the PR industry’s reputation, but this story has certainly provided us with a useful case study for our trainees at Racepoint and for those degree students we regularly provide workshops to.

100 years of tech invention


Today The Times published a short article taking a look at 100 years of invention – giving us a rundown on the most important inventions,  mostly different types of technology, year by year. It’s an interesting read…  and some PR is obviously doing a great job (Beats by Dr. Dre, best invention of 2008? Hadn’t headphones already been invented by then…) but there is some genuinely interesting inclusions on the list. 

Some truly great inventions have been included – the ones we take for granted and forget were ever inventions at all; the zip in 1913, the electric kettle in 1921, the can opener  in 1925, the colour television in 1940.  Then there are the inventions that are less every day – but have changed everything – Kidney dialysis  in 1944, the SAGE modem in 1952, and perhaps most relevant for 21st century peoples, the internet 1969.  These are the inventions that have helped transform the modern world and the way we think.

Journalist Murad Ahmed has thrown a few more frivolous items in for good measure; the hairdryer (1920) – who can argue with the importance of this item? The slinky (1943) – the world might have been a bit busy for ground breaking consuming inventions in the early 1940s and the iPod (2001), maybe missing out a few obvious everyday items such as dishwaters and washing machines.

Interestingly Twitter is listed as the most important invention in 2009. Whether or not it should be on this list is hardly debatable – it has changed the way people communicate with like minded friends and peers, with brands, with celebrities, with businesses.  Twitter has changed how brands advertise and promote what they are doing in a way that means no going back. It has certainly had a massive impact on the PR industry and the way communications professionals work.  Can you imagine campaign planning without Twitter or indeed other social media elements?

In a relatively short space of time Twitter has quickly established itself as part of our every day professional lives as communications professionals.  We’ve seen massive global events unfold in real time via twitter and other social networks – the Arab Spring, the London Riots, and the riots in Taksim Square all unfolded minute by minute on twitter and other social networks such as Instagram.  No brand worth its salt would neglect Twitter as a major channel for communicating with its various audiences and customers.

Twitter has changed how we network, how and where we identify opportunities for our clients and it is in no way an understatement to say that it has revolutionised the way news spreads around the world and how people gather information.  Whether or not we will be using the Twitter platform in 20 years time remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, right here, right now, Twitter has been a massive game changer, transforming our industry.

The average Twitter user only has 27 followers…and other interesting facts (infographic)

Here’s a brand new, fresh infographic for you – all about Twitter and Twitter usage. There’s usually one or two of these flying about at any given time, but this one has some pretty interesting bits and bytes that show Twitter’s scale isn’t necessary all good:

  • Rejoice fellow UK tweeters, for our green and pleasant land has the second highest number of users – being pipped to gold by the yanks. Sadly, it is quite a big pip – over 50% of Twitter users are in the US, compared to just over 17% in the UK (which also means English is likely the prominently language of Twitter). Still not bad for a small, overly proud country
  • Over one million new Twitter profiles are created every day, on average 11 every second. Which would be good news except…
  • 40% of Twitter users have never tweeted. Not even a little chirp. Seems there’s a lot of spam-bots out there being silly and ruining the stats for everyone
  • The average Twitter user has only 27 followers, and a quarter have none at all –so the likes of Gaga, Obama and other important types ending in A* are seriously propping up the average
  • Good new for PR and marketing folks is over half of active Twitter users follow brand/product pages, and high numbers of US Twitter users are likely to recommend products or buy from brands they follow (79% and 67% respectively)

See the full graphic below.

twitter infographic facts figures

*other influential twitter users with names not ending in A are available

Source Website Monitoring via The Wall