Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become enormously popular in the past few years. Some sources estimate that Facebook will reach 1 billion users by this August. That’s one-seventh of the world’s population! Twitter users post over 300 million messages, or “tweets,” per day. These networks are powerful communication tools in this age of instant information. People from every segment of our society are using social media to share information and ideas with each other. According to one recent survey, more than 80% of respondents ages 18 to 24, and 45% of respondents ages 45 to 64, said they are likely to share health information through social media sites.1
The NIAMS, like many other NIH components, is now adding to this online conversation by providing science-based information about bone, joint, muscle, and skin health. To leverage the power of these new tools, the NIAMS has begun incorporating them into our information dissemination efforts. In January 2011, we launched our Twitter account with the user name "@NIH_NIAMS". Twitter allows us to post messages of up to 140 characters highlighting our publications, research advances, news stories, and exhibits at conferences and scientific meetings. In the 18 months since we started tweeting, our following has grown to more than 1,600 people, including:
- Professional and voluntary organizations
- Members of the NIAMS Coalition
- Members of Congress
- Medical professionals
- Individuals affected by the diseases and conditions in our research portfolio.
Earlier this year, we started posting some of our tweets in Spanish to highlight NIAMS resources for our Spanish-speaking audience. We are also able to "retweet" relevant messages from other NIH Institutes and Centers that use Twitter, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In March of this year, we launched our Facebook page (NIH.NIAMS), reaching up to 500 people weekly with updates coordinated with those we post on Twitter. This gives us the opportunity to interact with the rapidly growing Facebook audience, adding to our exposure in the social media world. Our Facebook and Twitter postings have led to over 23,000 visits to our website in the first six months of 2012. When our messages are shared or "retweeted" by our followers, we reach an even wider audience. Additionally, our Intramural Research Program has established its own Facebook page (NIAMS.labs), as has the NIH Rheumatology Training Program (NIH.Rheumatology).
These pages keep the professional communities informed about NIAMS research advances and clinical training programs.
I would like to encourage individuals and organizations who are interested in the NIAMS mission to follow our social media messages and "retweet" or share them with their followers. This will help us all to extend our reach with our key audiences.
Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health
1PricewaterhouseCoopers. Social Media "Likes" Healthcare : From Marketing to Social Business. Published online April 2012.