What is Twitter Good For? A Case Study

Renee Hopkins
Feb 23, 2015 · 4 min read
Photo: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

It’s good for conversations — finding them, starting them and nurturing them until they create a community of their own.


Recently Derek Thompson of The Atlantic asked What Good is Twitter? after an examination of the publication’s site revealed that only a fraction of @TheAtlantic followers actually click on the article links, and the clicks themselves are few in number.

Perhaps he should have titled it “Twitter Doesn’t Drive Link Traffic” or something else less universal, because Twitter has been very, very good for @TheBIF (and #TheBIF as well). The reason? We use Twitter not so much to drive traffic to our site as to participate in actual conversations with our community and other interested (and interesting) people.

So let me describe to you a better way to use Twitter than simply sharing links.

A Case Study

We recently held a Participatory Design Studio in conjunction with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation as part of a project to imagine, design and build a playbook for healthcare narrative. Called the Power of Narrative, the project’s aim is to explore the use of narrative in healthcare with those who use it or see the need for it — doctors, nurses, artists, writers, patient advocates, patients and so forth.

Design the Experience

As the project began, we decided to consciously find (or create, if necessary) the place on Twitter where the conversation on this subject was happening, or could happen. Not finding a hashtag that would encompass all the stakeholders, we created #hcnarrative as a “home case” for the conversation.

No one can actually own a hashtag, but we registered the hashtag and the description of what it was for on Symplur, a site that monitors and collects information on healthcare-related hashtags.

Next, we made a Twitter list of all the 30 or so people who had been invited to the design studio and had Twitter accounts. That allowed us to more easily converse with our participants before, during, and after the Feb. 5–6 event.

Work Out Loud

We participated in the conversation ourselves prior to and during the event — essentially, working out loud and showing our work. These tweets came from our main @TheBIF account and our Patient Experience Lab account (@BIFpxl), as well as the accounts of BIF staffers who were most involved — @Renee_Hopkins, @LindseyMesservy, @leighcappello, @skap5, @elithechef.

On the days of the event, we encouraged regular tweeters in the group to live-tweet the proceedings. Some heavy tweeters like @ReginaHolliday and @AfternoonNapper would have done it anyway, regardless of what we said! We set up a large monitor so the participants could see the Twitter stream in real-time.

Photo: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

As the two-day event progressed, tweets flew into #hcnarrative, and from the outset it was pretty clear that a number of people outside the room were following, commenting, asking questions and in general participating. How do we know this?

Create Artifacts

We had contracted before the event with @JohnWLewis to provide a transcript of the tweetstream for the time starting just before and continuing to just after the event. Examining the PDF transcript showed that while we had 25 tweeters in the room, 108 different Twitter accounts were represented in the tweetstream during the time of the event.

We made the document available to participants through the project page, and one BIF team member wrote a blog post using some of the tweets. Also, @BethTonerRN from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created a Twitter-based story of the event using @Storify.

Photo: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

The tweetstream archives join the other artifacts from the event — notes from exercises, visual notes, photos, video. That makes for a rich store of information and insights available to the BIF team members who are now hard at work creating the playbook. And the conversation in the hashtag remains strong enough that we are confident it will take on a life of its own.

So, what is Twitter really good for? It’s good for conversations — finding them, starting them and nurturing them until they create a community of their own.

    Renee Hopkins

    Written by

    I’m a writing therapy coach. Also, a twangy singer and rhythm guitar player. Roll Tide. Use your words. renee-hopkins.com

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