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How Hashtags Stoke the Campfire of Healthcare Conversations

Have you noticed how common the hashtag (#) has become in Twitter conversations? I don’t think even Chris Messina back in ’07 realized how his simple suggestion to use ‘a # (pound)’ sign would revolutionize Twitter?

Chris Messina invented the Twitter hashtag with a simple suggestion to use it for grouping conversations

While hashtags aren’t required for every tweet, they are very useful when it comes to:

  1. Filtering conversations based on interest/relevance
  2. Building communities
  3. Providing real-time interaction and feedback during hosted events
  4. Establishing thought leadership and influence

#1. Filtering Health-Related Conversations

Hashtags have become crucial in healthcare conversations. Twitter is busy and disruptive while healthcare is broad and structured.

Any tool that helps to filter health-related discussions is indispensable. This is important particularly for physicians who don’t have time to figure out how tweets work. Hashtags are perfect since they allow them to follow a single stream of relevant medical content.

#2. Building Communities

Apart from doctors, it’s becoming more obvious that others who are interested in medicine and social media are growing in huge numbers.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the growth of The Healthcare Hashtag Project whose goal is to track various healthcare conversations using hashtags. Those creating conversations include healthcare marketers, social media enthusiasts, patients, survivors, and the general public.

Discussion topics are deep and wide ranging from diseases, health-care systems and support-groups to elder patient-care, drugs and many more and each of them use a unique hashtag to identify the specific conversation stream. And of course these conversations are sustained by a community of dedicated and passionate people who are committed to sharing resources and ideas.

#3. Providing Real-Time Interaction During Hosted Events

Hashtags are also a great way to encourage real-time interaction and feedback from participants at hosted events. In the last three years for example, Mayo Clinic has hosted highly successful social media summits that generate a lot of buzz. One reason why their summits are so successful is because they use strong hashtags e.g. #MayoRagan and #MCCFI_HAIL to draw attention, encourage conversation and facilitate interaction among attendees.

Hashtags provide a live-feed commentary to encourage interaction between attendees and absentees of hosted events

But among those who are unable to attend, hashtags are also very helpful. By making a live-filtered commentary feed available on Twitter (though it’s easier to follow using tools such as Tweetchat) absentees can easily participate in the summit and weigh in with their own feedback.

#4. Establishing Thought Leadership and Influence

Within each category there are also those who lead the conversation. These people are usually thought-leaders who care deeply about a conversation topic and use hashtags to introduce and share content that spreads organically within their communities.

Other tweeters can also use hashtags to identify and follow influencers leading to further growth of the collective healthcare dialogue.

Key Takeaway

Twitter provides tremendous learning and networking opportunities in the healthcare field. However it is much too busy and noisy an ecosystem, and engaging in meaningful conversations can be a big challenge especially for medical professionals whose time is scarce.

Tools that filter conversations and allow users to focus on the most relevant streams are therefore critical on Twitter. Hashtags are a fantastic way to allow users to stoke the campfire by filtering only those relevant experiences and stories that would otherwise die out.

Over to you: In what other ways have you found hashtags to add value to healthcare-related conversations?

**This post was first published on Radian6 on July 23rd 2012.

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