APHA's primary Twitter account, @PublicHealth, ranked third on CQ Roll Call's list of top-100 association handles. Click to follow us and join the growing public health conversation. Photo by APHA

APHA’s primary Twitter account, @PublicHealth, ranked third on CQ Roll Call’s list of top-100 association handles. Click to follow us and join the growing public health conversation. Photo by APHA

Continuing in our celebration of Social Media Week, APHA is joining thinkers, innovators and social media users worldwide to reflect on the regular contributions and emerging trends in social media. Today, Public Health Newswire catches up with Michele Late, administrator of APHA’s primary Twitter account, @publichealth. Late, who is also executive editor of The Nation’s Health, APHA’s newspaper, has passions for public health and sharing news, and helped grow @publichealth into a go-to hub for 410,000 public health enthusiasts.

Be sure to also check out our social media tip sheet for Twitter to gather more tips on advancing public health using social media.

Why Twitter? What does this social media platform uniquely offer the public health community?

I wouldn’t say Twitter is “unique” for public health, but it’s definitely beneficial for amplifying public health messages. One of the main reasons that APHA is on Twitter is that our audience is already there. There are an estimated 500,000 public health workers in the U.S., and we want to engage all of them, not just the members of our Association. And we want to reach the public as well. Twitter helps us do that.

One reason Twitter is a great tool for sharing public health information is because it’s so timely. There’s a real opportunity for us to weigh in on public health as it happens. It’s also a fantastic way to increase your reach. Since we debuted @publichealth, our posts have been retweeted more than 57,000 times. We aren’t just reaching our immediate followers; our messages can go far beyond our core audience. Even if someone doesn’t know who APHA is — or what public health is — our information can potentially help improve their health and the health of their communities.

You’ve managed APHA’s @PublicHealth from the start and now have 410,000 followers. What are some tips for starting up a winning Twitter account and developing a large, engaged audience?

That’s a good question. I think it helps to have someone running your account who loves the platform and loves sharing information. If you have an admin who is not into social media that’s going to be a barrier. Passion is always a plus! But beyond that, be active, be engaging. Don’t just wait for people to come to you — follow, retweet, weigh in on other people’s posts. There are public health-related Twitter chats every week — join in and be a part of the conversation. And when followers do come to you, be responsive. Reply, favorite and just give them a shoutout. If you’re just posting on Twitter, that’s not social media — that’s a bulletin board.

Also, stick with it. Come up with a minimum of posts you’re going to do each day or week and stay on it. I hate seeing ghost accounts on Twitter where a health department or organization starts posting and then just abandons it. You can retool your focus or messaging as you go along and see what works, but you have to make a commitment.

It’s also helpful, of course, to decide from the outset why you’re on Twitter and what you want out of it. And how you’re going to measure your success. We actively look at things like clicks, retweets and other engagement to see what is resonating with our audience. Our posts have evolved and improved because of that.

@publichealth has been present for many Annual Meetings, public health events and memorable news stories. Tell us about one @publichealth moment that was particularly impactful.

Well, I talked about the ability to be timely on Twitter. That’s something that can turn into a real opportunity. One example is the 2013 Super Bowl. We used the game as a hook to promote public health on Twitter — we tweeted tips for healthy snacks, warned about drinking and driving and shared a flu PSA from a player. We had a lot of interaction and positive response. But then, as you remember, there was that power outage in the stadium at halftime. After the lights went out, @publichealth tweeted a link to a fact sheet from APHA’s Get Ready campaign on preparing for power outages. It was topical, it was funny and it was great public health messaging. It also got a tremendous response.

Since then, we’ve learned to be on alert for such opportunities, especially something that can resonate. It doesn’t have to be something so dramatic — it can be as simple as creating tweets that tie into a public health observance so that you get some of that attention that’s already built into that.

Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced with managing @publichealth. How have you addressed it?

There are definitely challenges. I think the biggest thing is the one we all face — there’s so much we’re already working on. We’re all being asked to do more in public health. So how do you manage another thing? Here at APHA, we’ve found that sharing the load on social media helps. We make it a group effort.

Overall, we have more than two dozen social media accounts on a range of platforms — from blogs and Facebook to Pinterest and Storify. We have seven Twitter accounts alone. Having one person run all of those accounts would be overwhelming. So we split up the work through our in-house social media team. We identify who’s the best person from across our staff to run an account and bring them on board. When people look at my title — I’m executive editor of The Nation’s Health, APHA’s newspaper — it may seem weird that I’m behind the @publichealth account. But since I live and breathe public health news and love sharing information, it’s a natural fit. Our team communicates and gets together regularly to share tips and messaging.

And messaging is important. Even if we are discussing the same topic, we don’t always present it the same way across our tools. I also run our Instagram account, and the audience there is different. In general, I’d say Twitter is more newsy, Facebook more social and conversational and Instagram more fun. So we adapt our message to the tool we’re posting on. That’s something public health folks should keep in mind when crafting their post — know the audience, the lingo, the tone on each tool. You shouldn’t just write one message and copy and paste it onto all your accounts.

Where can public health professionals learn more about using Twitter and other social media tools in their work?

There are some great resources out there. One of my favorites is AIDS.gov. They offer a wealth of easy-to-follow information on new media and social media for health professionals. They even offer online “office hours” where you can sign up for a free virtual consult on social media. Their main focus is on HIV/AIDS, but the information is applicable to all of public health. They can help you with everything from setting up an account to analyzing metrics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a nice library of tools and guides for using social media and public health as well. They have a great writing guide that can help you develop your voice and tone on social media. The CDC Social Media Toolkit is really helpful, too.

If you want one-on-one advice, the APHA Annual Meeting Social Media Lab is a must-do. We offer it every year at the Annual Meeting and it’s free for all attendees. We partner with AIDS.gov and give people the opportunity to sit down with experts and ask whatever they want about using social media. All questions are welcome! We’ll be holding the lab again at our Annual Meeting in Chicago, which runs Oct. 31-Nov. 4.

Beyond, I’d recommend just following those whose work on social media you admire and learn from what they’re doing. If you’re not ready to set up an account for your organization, use your personal Twitter account to get in there and get engaged. There are a lot of people there who are ready to welcome you into the public health conversation.