January 12, 2015

How Health Departments Use Twitter

BACKGROUND: Little is known about how Twitter is used by local health departments (LHDs).

METHODS: The Twitter accounts for 210 LHDs were divided into 3 groups based upon the size of the population they served. Tweets were coded as: a) being about the organization itself, or b) addressing personal health topics. Tweets were subcategorized as including information only, follower engagement, and action.

RESULTS: Just over half of the tweets related to personal health information, and about 40% of the tweets were about the organization. Of the personal-health tweets, about 60% involved factual information and 40% encouraged reader action. About a third of the tweets about the organization tried to engage followers in conversation. Small LHDs were more likely to tweet about their organization, less likely to recognize other organizations, less likely to post personal health related information, and less likely to encourage readers take action on improving their lifestyle.

CONCLUSIONS: LHDs primarily use Twitter to post one-way communications, will less focus on engaging their audiences in conversation or encouraging health related actions.

J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(8):e177