10 lessons from live tweeting NHS style

So how can Twitter – a space for informal, conversational, ephemeral and highly social interaction, where everyone has access to 140 characters whatever their role or position in life or work – help a Board become more social?

As anyone who’s sat through an NHS Board of Directors (BoD) meeting knows, they are a world away from the networked style of social media. Formal and structured, they have a set membership who responsible for the governance of a large organisation. Members of the public can attend and there is a designated space for them to put their questions. However, I would hazard a guess that most people, irrespective of how interested they are in their local NHS Trust, wouldn’t spend half of their day listening to lots of technical language, detailed discussions, and then be brave enough to pose a question when the moment arrives.

So can Twitter offer a space to make Board meetings more social, or are they mutually incompatible? Can Twitter enable a wider group of people to engage with topics under discussion?

We are experimenting at our NHS Trust and here are ten basic lessons we’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Making it social – we began by just sharing updates from the Board of Directors using the rationale that we were reaching people who couldn’t attend in person. But of course people wanted to interact. We now send out tweets a few days before asking tweeps if they’d like to put question to the Board and giving them the option to tweet them or email them to us instead.  This has definitely engaged more people and I hope will continue to do so.
  2. Getting the tone right –a lot of what gets discussed in Board meetings might be fairly dry for people not directly involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation, so picking out the relevant and interesting bits can be demanding in a quick moving meeting. Trying to get the tone right between the positives and the challenges is tricky and we’ll keep working on trying to get this right. It’s easy to tend towards the safe and self-congratulatory stuff but we run the risk of people just switching off (well I would anyway) because it sounds too corporate. What I’ve been struck by is that the Boards do actually spend quite a bit of time discussing themes that I am interested in and I think will also interest people using our services, such as recovery and how people experience our services. So I’m pleased we have an opportunity to share this with people who follow us.
  3. Responding to questions – the Board is a public meeting and anyone can attend. There is always an open section for members of the public to ask questions. We now take this opportunity to ask questions to members of the Board on behalf of tweeps. It can be very tricky getting a 140 character summary response (although we do try!) so our current plan is to get full responses up on our website the next day. They will of course be recorded in the Board minutes as well, but they take a while longer to get up on our website, and we want to be timely in our responses.
  4. Making it personal – the team take it in turns to live tweet from our Board meetings, so we introduce ourselves in the first tweet and let followers know that we’ll be tweeting over the next few hours, using the hashtag #BoD. Sound basic but we didn’t think to do this to start off with until a helpful prompt from @ClaireOT.
  5. Using a hashtag – it’s important to get the hashtag right.  We have used the hashtag #BoD but if you put it in a Twitter search a whole load of other stuff comes up as well.  We definitely need to change it to something that makes it clear it is our NHS Trust tweeting.
  6. Who’s interacting with us? – at the moment it is people using our services who are mostly interacting with us, which is fabulous. I would love to have staff interacting with us as well but most of them will be busy doing their clinical work while the meeting is taking place. So our next step must be to start curating our tweets so that they can be a resource for people who aren’t able to follow in real time.
  7. Having the right equipment – we began tweeting from our smart phones but it was really fiddly cutting and pasting links and difficult searching for stuff from our website to forward on to people. So we’ve invested in a tablet which makes it tons easier, with the ability to have multiple tabs open at the same time.
  8. Not underestimating the skills required – live tweeting from a formal meeting whilst people are interacting with you, and responding to questions on Twitter, is no mean feat. It takes a lot of concentration. It’s also complicated by the fact that people maybe tweeting you about unrelated stuff at the same time. We have a dedicated member of the team there just to do the tweeting and nothing else, whilst another member of the team is available to respond to un-related tweets back at the office.
  9. Getting support from the BoD – a number of our directors are on Twitter and I was delighted that we had some re-tweets from one or two during our last live tweet and lots of positive feedback afterwards.  We just got on and experimented with live tweeting without asking for formal permission. This approach has pros and cons. If we had taken a formal proposal then I think there would have been agonising about whether it was the right thing to do. However, the fact that we didn’t means that we may have to take a step back and convince those who aren’t convinced. We have in-house team guidelines for our use of Twitter and we are adding in our learning from our live tweeting. We’ll then share them with our directors, which I hope will given them reassurance.
  10. Thinking to the future – I love how we learn as we go, trying to avoid making too many mistakes, and developing our approach from our own experience and feedback from others. We’ll hopefully continue to improve and increase the sociability of our Board meetings so we can interact with a wider group of people that the small number who attend in person.

So on balance, I think it is worth experimenting with live tweeting from a Board meeting. There will always be limits to how social it can be because of the format and the purpose of the meeting. But if we can get a bit more engagement and develop more transparency in how we run our organisation, then that can’t be a bad thing.

If you are doing something similar then please do add your experiences to the thoughts I’ve shared. We are very early on in this journey and I’m sure others are doing it better than us, so do share and I’ll post any other ideas/experiences for everyone to see.

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  1. Hello Victoria- I really liked this blog – always tricky making what is formal content into something more accessible and ‘fun’.

    Just wanted to ask – how hard has it been to get directors on board ?


    • Thank you for your comment Kulbir – much appreciated. A few of our directors and non executive directors are on Twitter themselves so are generally supportive. The Board is keen to get more interaction and interest in their public meetings so I think they see this as one way of doing so for people who can’t get there in person. I think it may be a challenge if they begin getting lots of questions and comments posted via Twitter as the Board isn’t really set up for lots of interaction – still largely a formal meeting. But I could be wrong. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!

  2. Great blog! As one of the directors (non-exec) who ‘tweets’ and indeed ‘retweeted’ during the meeting, I totally approve of this approach. It’s much more interactive, accessible, real-time and lively. It would be great if it gets more people interested in some of the stuff we have to get through. It might also force a change of focus for us if people really get into it and start asking more challenging questions.

    • Thank you Niccola. Yes I agree that the most likely impact is that interaction on Twitter will push more interaction between the public and the Board and may, in due course, necessitate a re-focusing of the public element of the meeting. I was thinking that uploading a few pictures of the Board meeting (with people’s agreement) might be nice as well to help make it feel a bit more about real people than an invisible group.

  3. Could need a bit of a think about the agenda / timing and how tweets are presented so that they’re accessible to everyone present. Is it too ridiculous to think about following them on a big screen in real time via the hashtag? Would it be too distracting from the main business? I can imagine there might be some resistance and perhaps that’s right. Would be interesting to experiment though. Can’t imagine the photos will be very exciting but also can’t see any reason to object.


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