Preparing to fly into the Twittersphere

So what is this thing called Twitter? Most people have heard of it, some are old hands at using it, but to others it is a mysterious world they either fear to enter or have no desire to be part of.

So why should a busy nurse bother to tweet?

Perhaps the best person to answer that question is a nurse who is relatively new to Twitter. Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospitals associate director of operations BJ Waltho was urged to start tweeting when she stood for election as deputy chair of RCN congress in 2014.

‘I was very sceptical at first,’ she says. ‘I thought it was all trivia. But it’s not – it’s a powerful way of communicating, engaging, learning and so much more. Also, it is not until you dip your toes in the water that you realise what an inclusive community it is and that is what I like about it.’

Sharing ideas

She believes Twitter can be a useful resource for nurses. ‘It is great for sharing good practice. It was through Twitter that I first came across the Academy of Fabulous NHS Stuff. I realised I could go back to my trust and say: “we have this problem – here’s how another trust resolved it”. How great is that?

‘It is also a means of communicating with patients. My hospital has a trust Twitter account and patients use it to give us feedback. If they are using it then you have to respond, so nurses today need to understand Twitter and other social media used by the people they care for. It is a way of engaging with your community.

‘It can also bring nurses together. For example, you could have a nurse in the Orkneys taking part in a meaningful discussion with a nurse from Cornwall.

‘Admittedly, when I first heard about it I couldn’t see the point, but now I am a bit of a born-again Twitter fan. It doesn’t have to take over your life – you can do it as much or as little as you want – but I guarantee you will get something out of it.’

So, for those new to Twitter, how do you start?

What the NMC says

In summary, use your common sense and remember that you are a professional. Do not say anything on social media that you would not want repeated.

Specifically, you must not:

share confidential information.

post pictures of patients without their consent.

bully or intimidate others.

build or pursue relationships with patients or service users.

steal personal information or use someone else’s identity.

encourage violence/self-harm.

incite hatred or discrimination.

Read the full NMC social media guidance at tinyurl.com/nvrb399

First, you need to set up your Twitter profile. Go to www.twitter.com and under ‘sign up’ add your name, email address and a password, then choose a Twitter user name. These always start with @ and are what you will be known as on Twitter. Your first choice may have been taken already, but if so Twitter will suggest alternatives. Your full name will appear in your tweets before your @name.

Complete your biography with a photo and a short description of who you are and the subject area you will be tweeting about. Then you’re ready to ‘tweet’. Every comment you post must be 140 characters or less (Twitter will count them for you), and you can add photos or comment on other people’s tweets. Twitter will suggest people for you to ‘follow’ – meaning you will see all of their tweets and updates – but you will also find people that interest you as you become familiar with using it.

Don’t be put off by the jargon. Below is a summary of the main things you need to know.


Tagging a tweet with a hashtag makes it easier for others to find. For example, adding #nursing means when someone searches under that subject they will find all the tweets with that hashtag.

If you have something to say about infection control, adding #infectioncontrol means others interested in that subject will be more likely to come across your tweet. Or if you want to hear what others are saying about mental health you could search for #mentalhealth. The most popular hashtags at any given time are said to be ‘trending’.


If you mention someone by name – for example, @NSeditor – they receive a notification and so are more likely to reply or retweet your comment to their followers.

But be careful where in the tweet you use their name. Using the name at the start is like having a conversation with someone, so that tweet will only go to them (and anyone who follows both of you). For example: @ NSeditor I would like to write for @NurseStandard on revalidation and the Code of Conduct.

If you want all your followers to see the tweet just put a dot at the start: .@NSeditor I would like to write for @NurseStandard on revalidation and the Code of Conduct.

Direct messages

This is just as it sounds, a way of having a private conversation with someone you follow (and who follows you) without anyone else seeing the message.

Twitter chats

These are organised discussions.

#NScomment is Nursing Standard’s weekly chat on a topical subject and is held every Thursday, 12.30-1.30pm.

#NurseJC is our ‘First Friday’ journal club, a discussion on a clinical article from Nursing Standard, held on the first Friday of each month, 12.30-1.30pm.

#WeNurses hold chats every Thursday and some Tuesdays at 8pm.

@theRCN holds a Twitter chat every Friday lunchtime.

#NurChat is a fortnightly discussion about a given topic that takes place on Tuesdays at 8pm.

We asked nurses for their Twitter tips

@AgencyNurse: #TopTweetingTips Be kind, be honest, be genuine, be caring... be you :) Also read NMC Social Media Guidance!

@pauljebb1: Engage, watch, then join in...

@ClaireGibbsUK: Don’t be scared to tweet people in influential positions – they are human too & may even become your friends!

@NurChat: There is no hierarchy on Twitter.

@ckentone: Forget status, reputation & job titles – just talk.

@punc14Nathan: Remember to be professional and remember there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

@SamanthaLevein: If it’s not appropriate in a placement/work setting, it’s not appropriate on Twitter! #professionalvalues

Why tweet?

@NurChat: You get to ‘speak’ to people you wouldn’t dream of. Make the most of the opportunity and be ‘social’.

@LizAllibone: Shy people or ‘reflectors’ can shine too, not just the loudest voice that’s heard!

@clinicalcaz: It gives everyone the platform to shine!

@stueymckenzie: Must #keeptweeting and keep spreading good practice.

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