Less Characters, More Tweets – A Few Tweeting Tips

It is hard to believe that a service that limits your speech to 140 characters would emerge as an important media platform, but it has.  News travels more quickly, is more granular in nature, can very specific to highly targeted audiences and drives traffic to full stories and sites.  It allows reporters to file micro-stories all day long.  The breadth of what gets communicated drives depth, even in such a short character span.

Last month I posted on tracking the top healthcare beat reporters as a means of keeping up with what is going on in the healthcare space.  You only have to attend a medical meeting to understand how quickly news is being shared out of those venues by attendees and media.  Even FDA has 14 twitter feeds and they are compiled here in a list if you would like to view all FDA tweets at once.

There is no right way and wrong way to post tweets.  But it is important to remember that one maximizes one’s impact on Twitter by providing content that is engaging and newsworthy and gets repeated.  In other words, talking to your followers is one thing – and perhaps an important thing, but talking to your followers’ followers is much more effective from a communications point of view.  It is reaching those networks to which you do not have direct access yourself.  It is the echo chamber that is Twitter.

In other words, the whole point is to have your tweet re-tweeted.  Retweeting is pretty easy – you click on the icon and poof, you send.  But when you do that, it adds characters to the tweet.  If you go over the character limit, the retweet will be truncated.  Not good.

Therefore, it is important to consider, when composing a tweet, the need to keep it a short and sweet tweet in order to maximize the possibility that it gets retweeted.  If a reader goes to retweet and finds that the retweet is now too long, it will require the user to modify the tweet.  At that point you are likely to experience a drop-off in retweeting.

So in the end, don’t make re-tweeting a chore.  If you force your reading public to modify the tweet, then you are going to experience a drop-off in re-tweeting.  Drop unnecessary words like “a” and “An” and “the” – abbreviate when possible – and use short cuts like & and $ when you can.  Putting your readership against the wall with the 140 characters is not doing them or you a favor.

Checklist for finishing a tweet – look it over and ask yourself

  • What words can be dropped entirely?
  • What terms can be abbrevicated?
  • What can be replaced by a symbol such as substituting “&” for “and”
  • Can I use other shortcuts – substituting risk/benefit for the “risks and benefits”

Shaving characters from your tweet will increase the likelihood of getting re-tweeted and minimize the chances of someone mangling the meaning of your tweet by modifying it.

Happy Tweeting People.

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Weekly Roundup 9.26.14

I bring you the Weekly Roundup today from Cape Cod where there is a lovely sense of autumn in the air, but blue skies and lovely shoreline allowing us to still remember the summer’s most pleasant days.

And here is what happened this week in reality-based Washington, D.C.

  • Ebola Candidate Treatment Emergency Use - Reuters reported this week that FDA was allowing the emergency use of Tekmira’s investigative compound TKM-Ebola being studied as a treatment for Ebola. Canada also issued a similar authorization.  And the company announced this week that it would be joining an international consortium to conduct clinical trials for new treatments in West Africa.
  • FDA Warns Purveyors of Ebola Treatments – On a related but entirely different note, FDA issued warning letters to 3 companies that the agency said were marketing preventions and/or cures for Ebola.  The letters were issued on September 22 and 23 and represented a range of types of products.  FDA has put up a web page on Ebola and overviews distinctions between investigative compounds and fraudulent products.
  • CyberSecurity and Medical DevicesFDA announced a public workshop for October 21 and 22 to be held in Arlington, Virginia entitled “Collaborative Approaches for Medical Device and Healthcare Cybersecurity” and the purpose of the meeting is to identify barriers to promoting cooperation and to consider strategies to overcome various challenges.
  • Social Media Guidance Comment Period Extended - FDA announced that it would be extending the time period for comment from the public regarding the two social media guidances issued in June.  The agency took five years to produce the guidances and is seeing fit to give the public a bit more time to provide input. According to the notice sent by FDA, the time period will be extended from September 29 to October 29.

That’s it for me.  Back to vacation.  Have a good weekend everyone.

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Here Comes the Sun – Communications Tips on The Sunshine Data Publication

The Sunshine Act will peek out from behind some, but not all, of the clouds on the horizon soon, leading to a new day in transparency on payments between the medical products industry and those who provide care.  Data will be published by HHS on payments made to key stakeholders including physicians and teaching hospitals among others.  Much has been written and much will be written.  My own humble contribution has taken place from time to time looking at the issue here in this country and in France; looking at how the release of CMS data this Spring was covered by media as a proxy for what we might see on Sunshine coverage; and a Webinar that was held in June providing tips for preparing for the publication of the data from a communications point of view.

The time is near. For those who have procrastinated, here from the Webinar are a few of those observations and tips.


  • The first wave of coverage will likely focus on the payments – how much went to where – with comparisons and rankings, the second wave may then focus on how well the implementation of the law is working, or not (reporting errors, e.g.);
  • Focus may well be on which doctors received high levels of funding, which institutions and which companies paid the most, which parts of the medical profession received the most funding – and these stories will likely be on a national and regional/local level;
  • Because of the connection with money – the skew is likely to be negative;
  • Stakeholders will include teaching hospitals, non-teaching hospitals, physicians, research centers, medical societies, CMS and of course, patients.


  • Messaging will be important for individual stakeholders, not just trade associations and groups and is best developed ahead of time and that takes into consideration not just what stakeholders feel a need to say, but what they think audiences – particularly patients – may want to hear;
  • Understand ahead of time your stake – what are the characteristics and scope of your involvement – what is your individual story and assess strengths and vulnerabilities;
  • Also understand that this is an opportunity to educate people about the relationships that exist so provide a comprehensive picture – don’t just respond to individual snippets of the story or the data – which will appear defensive;
  • That said, be able to define the individual elements of those relationships – help media/people understand what the benefits are to scientific advisory boards, clinical trials, etc.
  • Make sure internal stakeholders help devise messages to provide the most accurate messaging;
  • Have materials ready – FAQ, Talk Points and Backgrounders to help convey the messaging.

With the potential holding back of some of the data, the resulting story may be even more confused than it would have otherwise been and may complicate the ability of media to cover the story of the data publication considerably.  Good preparation will help mitigate some of that circumstance, particularly in messaging, that will allow individual stakeholders to help shape their story, rather than have the story shaped for them.

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Weekly Roundup 9.19.14

Argh!  It is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Fear not Matey!  I’m not gonna write my whole posting in pirate-speak, though it be a tempting morsel to ponder.

There were lots of approvals this week and finally a wee bit of action from the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) which so far this year has produced very little output in the way of warning or untitled letters.  The one sent out this month brings us to a grand total of 7 for the year, far below any rate of production recorded on these humble pages.

  • New Type 2 Diabetes Drug Approved - FDA gave Lilly’s Trulicity (dulaglutide) a green light this week.  Trulicity is a once-weekly subcutaneous injection to improve glycemic control, along with diet and exercise, in adults with Type 2 diabetes.  The drug is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist, a hormone that helps normalize blood sugar levels and comes with a Boxed Warning regarding an increased risk for thyroid C-cell tumors based on studies in rats. FDA will be looking for some post-marketing studies for the compound – studies in pediatric patients on efficacy and safety as well as others.  According to the company release, Lilly plans to make Trulicity available in single dose pens in two doses.
  • Treatment for Opioid-Induced Constipation Approved – A common side effect faced by patients using opioids to control pain is constipation as the drugs reduce the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. This week the agency approved a new oral treatment for opioid-induced constipation in adults with chronic non-cancer pain.  According to FDA’s release, the results of the trials measured two doses – 25 mg and 12.5 mg – and found that 44 percent of study participants at the first dose and 41` percent at the second dose experienced an increase in bowel movements compared to 29 percent who were on placebo.  The agency is looking for a postmarketing study related to cardiovascular adverse events.  The company said it expects to have the drug available to patients during the first half of 2015.
  • AdComm Vote on Testosterone Replacement Therapy Candidate – A joint meeting of the Bone, Reproductive and Urologic Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee met this week to consider approval of Testosterone Undecanoate – brand name REXTORO, put forward for consideration by Clarus Therapeutics.  The committee against the overall risk/benefit ratio by a large margin.  As is well-known, FDA is not required to follow the recommendation of the advisory committee.

That’s it for me today, matey.  To celebrate the day, I’ll be having a nice seafood lunch!  Argh!

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Talking Points for When People Who Don’t Get Social Media as a News Platform

Someone asked me the other day something to the effect of this – what is the point of social media when it comes to news – isn’t CNN just as fast?

It occurred to me that many of us in healthcare communications may face this question from people outside of the communications profession who, as a consequence of being professionally focused elsewhere, may not have a grasp of the how’s and why’s with respect to why social media is important in the overall communications picture.  In other words, there are many people outside of communications who may not have grasped all of the ways social media has changed the way we communicate.

So here are a few talking points to help in the event that, or a similar question, is posed to you.  There is nothing breathtaking here and it represents things I have said in this space previously, but I thought it might be handy to have them in a list – for when you need them.

  1. Not all social media are equal news platforms – some – like Facebook –  are more social platforms where news is spread, while some may perceive that Twitter has evolved as a major news platform.
  2. In any case, social media platforms offer people the ability to get news from personal sources who they trust and from people who are interested in the same or similar things and with whom they share outlooks on many topics.
  3. Social media also allows people to comment and spread news to their own networks – making it more participatory.
  4. Social media allows you to reach an audience who is likely already pre-disposed to be interested in your topic (e.g., people concerned about a specific disease or condition) rather than relying on a general publication that will reach a less enriched audience.
  5. In addition, social media allows instant reporting from almost any venue.  For example, medical meetings are very important for new medical products and the twitter traffic at these meetings increases every year, comprised of doctors, patient advocates, scientists as well as journalists.  As we have seen on the world stage, sometimes social media is the only means by which reporting even can occur – such as in areas of heavy conflict.
  6. Almost every journalist is on Twitter
  7. Social media in general and Twitter in particular allows a reporter to report several times a day instead of filing a single story (micro-reporting).

Feel free to add your own talking points, either yourself, or by leaving a comment!

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