When you’re limited to 140 characters, can a twitter chat truly be an effective policy engagement tool?
Based on my recent experience of a twitter chat with @wenurses, as part of our engagement around the proposed Vulnerable Older People’s Plan, my answer is definitely yes.
Vulnerable Older People's Plan
The department’s Vulnerable Older People’s Plan proposes some radical changes in primary and urgent care. It aims to improve support for vulnerable and elderly people, keeping people in better health and out of hospital.
We needed to let staff and patient groups know about the proposals and seek their views on what would actually work in practice.
The digital team published the proposals online on a dedicated vulnerable older people’s plan comment site. The site allowed people to view the proposals, comment on them, and read and respond to comments from others over a 12 week period. We wanted to encourage debate, get people thinking and give us comments on how the proposals could work, based on their own experiences.
To help promote the site, we carried out a social media mapping exercise to identify interested and influential parties in social media and encourage them to comment or write about the proposals.
One of the groups we were keen to engage with was nurses. And we identified @wenurses as a perfect channel to help reach up to 10,054 twitter followers.
@wenurses were keen to make sure nurses got their say on the proposals. They hold a regular twitter chat at 8pm every Thursday using their #wenurses hashtag but, as time was short, they proposed holding an extra chat on a Tuesday to accommodate our timescales.
In the 2 weeks leading up to the chat @wenurses published information about the proposals and chat on the wenurses site, with links to our comment site. Both @DHgovuk and @wenurses promoted the chat via twitter, @wenurses to their 10,054 followers and us to our 86,499 followers.
It definitely had an impact. In the week before the chat we could tell from our evaluation that the top webpage driving the most users to our comment site was the wenurses webpage about the chat.
The twitter chat itself was well received and well attended with 62 participants, sending 392 tweets during the hour-long chat, which averaged out at about 6 tweets per participant. The tweets were useful, sensible and based on experience.
One of our policy leads took part in the chat to represent the department, listen to the views, thank people for taking part and provide links during the conversation. Nurses tweeted about what works well in their own areas and provided contacts and insight that we might otherwise have missed. Others were listening to the chat even if they didn’t take part. There was a spike in people viewing our comment site around the time of the chat and, although this evaluation isn’t an exact science, we received 49 of our 615 total online comments in the 24 hours following the chat.
The policy team were really pleased with the results. They commented that it was far less daunting than expected and it was such a quick and inexpensive way to engage. You can now read the wenurses chat summary and transcript.
So, what did we learn?
- The impact of a twitter chat goes far beyond the 1 hour chat itself.
- It’s an effective tool for policy engagement so definitely worth considering as part of your overall engagement strategy.
- It’s helpful to work with a relevant third party. They already have a twitter following from your audience, and can help promote and host the chat and make sure it’s of interest to the audience.
- It’s pretty easy to do and you don’t necessarily need a high-profile spokeperson to do it.
We’re already planning the next one.