5 Reasons Hashtags Matter in Healthcare

In the healthcare space, we are constantly being inundated with new technologies.  Some we care to learn, while others we care to forget. Social technologies are no exception.  Remember Google Buzz? Me neither. But if I asked you if you have heard of Facebook or Twitter, you would probably send me in for a CT to get my head checked.

Both Facebook and Twitter are now not only household names, but are quickly becoming staples in our everyday interactions with those we see on a regular basis, not to mention those we can only manage to maintain virtual relationships with until busy schedules allow.  Facebook is a no-brainer.  Your friends are there.  It’s relatively easy to use. Oh, and let’s not neglect the fact that it’s mobile. The adoption trifecta.

That leaves Twitter. Twitter, at face value, seems more like one of those technologies you might rather forget than remember.  How could anyone blame you? You are limited to 140 characters or less (including links).  Often, it’s way too fast to keep up with if you don’t have a solid grasp on the platform.  Finally, what is up with all of this new language with hashtags (#) and handles (@)? Who has time to learn a new language at this point in their career?

Make no mistake about it, Twitter is a new language.  It’s also a new way of accessing information that can keep healthcare stakeholders relevant.  How? That silly little # symbol that you have to hit “Shift + 3” on your keyboard to put in front of words like healthcare, meaningfuluse, healthIT, etc.

The hashtag has revolutionized the way in which we share, index, store, and curate information. That being said, here are five, of many other reasons, why hashtags matter in healthcare.

1.  Access.  Last week, HIMSS hosted a Twitter Chat with former United States Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra using the hashtag, #AskAneesh.  Normally, if you were to engage with @AneeshChopra on Twitter, you might be lucky enough to get a response.  However, the #AskAneesh hashtag gave the average Twitter user access to his time and expertise, that may have otherwise gone overlooked in a one-on-one engagement scenario.  I am not sure about you, but I am more inclined to give my time knowing that there is a group of passionate and invested stakeholders at the other end of my tweets. This crowdsourcing tactic not only brings Aneesh Chopra to your Twitter stream, but brings a like-minded community along with it.

I doubt that I need to fully explain how having access to our leaders in healthcare is essential to progress.  However, something to keep in mind is that the White House is engaging the public using the #WHChat hashtag.  This access not only empowers the public to be involved in the nation’s affairs, but keeps our leaders accountable and informed. A model that all industries can benefit from.

2.  Community. When people ask me, “Michael, what is a hashtag?” My response is simply, “A community.”  While that may seem like an odd distinction, think about what a hashtag is. It’s a tag that cues Twitter to index all responses using that hashtag to appear in one stream.  Noting that there is a user at the end of each of those hashtags, for all intents and purposes, you have a virtual community surrounding a single hashtag. No doubt, some communities are more active and larger than others, but the hashtag allows us a digital relationship with influencers that offer opportunities for growth, either in the form of new business, resource sharing, or otherwise. Identifying these assets within the Twittersphere then allows you to take the next step in building a fruitful community.

Symplur’s Healthcare Hashtag Project would be a good place to start looking for your place in the overall Twitter community.

3.  Social Learning.  Building a community is one thing, but taking accountability for utilizing your network for your own growth is something entirely different. While our learning comes from other Twitter users, the hashtags are the campfire around which we share our stories.  So what is social learning? Tony Bingham, president and CEO of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), defines social learning as “learning that happens outside a formal structure or classroom and is really the way people have always learned from each other. Social learning centers on information sharing, collaboration and co-creation.” (via Mashable).

That being said, healthcare offers a slew of social learning opportunities with its plethora of conferences, webinars, boot camps, white papers, fact sheets, etc.  The only thing that is lacking is moving the dialogue to the social sphere where we can foster good ideas, revamp not so good ones, and use the two as useful agents for change. So, if you are ever wondering what that hashtag is for at the next conference you attend, now you know.

4.  Business Intelligence.  It terrifies a lot of people to intersect their social and business strategies.  But with the way that social is moving in healthcare, it might be a mistake to not jump aboard. The beauty of a platform like Twitter, is it is equally valuable to listen as it is to participate.  So, if you don’t have the bandwidth, knowledge, or the patience to build a social strategy at the moment, using Twitter to listen to what your stakeholders are saying about your brand, or about your areas of interest, is a great way to curate valuable (and actionable) information to ensure what you are contributing is relevant. More often than not, once you start hearing what people are saying, it’s incredibly difficult to not want to join in.

Personally, I feel as if using Twitter for business intelligence is a great fit for vendors – or anyone else with a product to sell.  Often, healthcare vendors get a bad rap for broadcasting their chatter at consumers, instead of taking the time to see what it is they truly need. Perhaps some hashtag listening is in order? Following the hashtags surrounding your stakeholders (#patients, #epatients, #providers, #EMR – to name a few) could prove to be a valuable asset in the product development (and even the sales) process.

5.  Thought Leadership.  Thought leadership, if it isn’t already, should be one of the most utilized (and fulfilled) promises in your brand (personal or otherwise) proposition on Twitter. Being able to demonstrate a dedication to advancing the progress of your craft and your industry says a lot to a community. And that doesn’t mean having all the answers either. While there are many social platforms through which you can articulate and demonstrate your thought leadership, Twitter’s hashtags allow users to introduce and share ideas/resources that organically grow the collective healthcare dialogue.

And frankly, there is a lot of room for this kind of organic sharing in the healthcare space, wouldn’t you say?

Where to go from here. Twitter itself is still an immature addition to the wide-range of social platforms for heatlhcare in the sense that a lot of healthcare professionals still misuse and don’t fully understand its use.  There is an array of perspectives on Twitter’s relevance. I can’t speak to that as Twitter’s fate in healthcare is still undecided, although it does look hopeful. 

What I do know, however, is that Twitter provides an incredible amount of opportunities in healthcare. Brad Tritle, Director of Healthcare Business Development, Informative Graphics, and Jon Mertz, member of the HIMSS PHIT Task Force & Social Media Work Group will be discussing healthcare’s future in the social space at the HIMSS Virtual Conference and Expo, taking place on June 6-7, 2012.  While this might be a great formal learning opportunity, the social learning opportunities will surely be abound via the #HIMSSVirtual hashtag.

Happy tweeting.

About Michael A. Gaspar

Michael Gaspar is the Program Manager of Social Media, with HIMSS Media.
This entry was posted in Blogging, HIMSS Events, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 5 Reasons Hashtags Matter in Healthcare

  1. Sima Dahl says:

    Very comprehensive post. I think one of the challenges with Twitter is the time it take to engage in meaningful conversation, but listening can be done at your own pace, off hours, and is even easier with free tools such as Hootsuite.com. I also like tweetchat.com for real time hashtag monitoring and participation.

    • Michael A. Gaspar says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and weigh in, Sima! Absolutely, the time needed for genuine engagement is a challenge we are finding in all industries, but is being augmented by the ability to use the social tools you mentioned to listen for sure. Huge fan of Hootsuite, I might add. While listening is a great way to stay abreast to new and trending information, I would still like to see larger investment in extracting the value that our “listeners” are foregoing by ONLY listening. Surely, there are some monumental pain points to address,like that big scary ROI word, staffing, financial investment, value, to name a few. I suppose it’s up to the social media professionals in the landscape to address and break down those fears with content and education. I know you have had a lot of success in some of these areas. What findings might you share?

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