Hashtags for Health: 5 Ways to Use Social Media for Health Promotion

Air Force provider checks vitals on an airman.

I am a reluctant newcomer to Twitter. Like many in my age bracket, I found it overwhelming and annoying at first glance. However, I’ve grudgingly become a regular user and now I think of tweeting as an additional opportunity to reach our health care teams and beneficiaries.

There’s more to social media than just getting the latest cool science updates from NASA or the operating status of the government. In fact, you can use social media to promote health and meet your team’s mission. Here are a few ideas:

Share health promotion tips and resources. An easy way to get started with social media is by sharing your favorite evidence-based resources with a carefully chosen hashtag. In the following tweet, our AfterDeployment team got the reader’s attention, provided a link, and used the hashtag #sleep so that others searching for information on getting better sleep could easily find it.

Highlight important moments at events. Before your next conference, pick a unique hashtag that all attendees can use in their tweets. For example, organizers of last year’s annual AMSUS meeting provided the hashtag #AMSUS2016, which allowed everyone to tweet about interesting presentations and posters. As a result, others at the conference could search by the hashtag to find the conference hot spots, while military health providers who weren’t able to attend were able to experience some of the high points.

Support ongoing initiatives. Hashtags help build momentum. When beginning a health promotion effort, select a short and unique hashtag that all stakeholders and supporters can use. An excellent example is the Suicide Prevention Social Media (#SPSM) movement that links suicide-prevention experts, researchers, practitioners and survivors. Whenever I tweet about suicide-prevention research or technology, I always include #SPSM so that others interested in this field will find it easily. The hashtag also helps us remember that we are working within a community; this can be especially helpful to those who are geographically isolated. Another good example is the #ThinkAhead campaign for Brain Injury Awareness Month. In the following tweet, you can see how the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (@DCoEPage) spread the word.

Emphasize your collaborations. Etiquette encourages us to share tweets from our partners. This is especially true in the health care field — we can help our followers by sharing resources with them that we’ve already vetted. Further, tweeting about a new or growing collaboration can be like a 21st-century thank-you note, as in the following tweet from our Defense Health Agency Director, Vice Adm. Raquel “Rocky” Bono (@DHADirector) about her visit to the Medical Education & Training Campus (METC). Note how she shows gratitude, generates interest for the METC and helps her followers find them at @metc_mil.

Recognize your team. Social media gives us a simple way to publically acknowledge the contributions of team members. After first checking with the individual to make sure that he or she doesn’t mind having their name and picture online, craft a thoughtful post of recognition like the following one from the Military Health System (@MilitaryHealth).

Of course, the news is full of examples of terrible ways to use social media. So, let’s take a quick moment to review a couple of caveats:

  • Online content lasts forever. Even though you can delete a post or comment, you can’t stop a user from saving it beforehand.
  • Online content is public. Only post messages that are appropriate for the front page of a newspaper.
What ways do you like to use social media? Share with us on Facebook or tweet to us @T2Health.

Julie T. Kinn, Ph.D. is a research psychologist at DHA Connected Health.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Dr. Julie Kinn