Twitter can be a useful tool in many ways, but only if used correctly.
Brian T. Horowitz 1 / 11
10 Ways to Manage Twitter So It Doesn’t Manage You
Twitter has become a useful tool for spreading information about current events, sharing articles and finding out useful information, like a tip from @AHealthBlog on how green tea can help with weight loss — but what’s the right amount of Twitter use without it becoming too much?
Simply following the Twitter feeds of hundreds of Twitter accounts can be overwhelming and disorganized. Whatever your subject interest, to best manage your Twitter routine, “it’s really about how you use the tool as opposed to what you use it for,” says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, an organization that explores how to use technology to integrate health into everyday life. Here we present 10 ways to use Twitter in a healthy way without it getting a hold of you.
As you increase the number of people that you follow on Twitter, clicking on the Home button and skimming through all of the tweets can become unwieldy.
“Almost no one goes and just reads their feed of who they’re following anymore because we’re all following lots and lots of people, and the discipline of only following people or organizations that are only producing stuff that’s meaningful is hard — so you end up getting stuff that isn’t that meaningful,” says Kvedar.
You can find groups for subjects like running, weightlifting or calorie counting. If you find 10 people that are experts in that area, place them in a group and build your Twitter setup from there, advises Kvedar.
Hashtags, a search term with a number sign (#) in front of it, are the Dewey Decimal System of Twitter. Searching for health topics marked with a hashtag in tweets allows you to focus on the areas you’re interested in without getting overwhelmed by searches that are too general. Twitter users have even created tags such as #twitterisgood and #twitterisbad on what’s healthy on Twitter and what isn’t.
“Hashtags have become the new URL,” says Kvedar. To customize Twitter for your needs, click on the magnifying glass icon and put in a term or two to see what comes up in an area that interests you. “It could be fitness, it could be tracking diet, whatever you’re following,” he says.
Whether you’re looking for information on how to organize a high-intensity workout, lose 20 pounds or train for a triathlon, experts in these areas can be found on Twitter. For your topics, “see who comes up as having written about them,” says Kvedar. “If you see people saying interesting things about that, then follow them.”
You can follow the news of public emergencies or health crises such as flu outbreaks, as do researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Twitter is also helpful for spreading information in a community during a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy—as long as wireless access remains available.
Limiting Twitter use — at least for personal use — to a couple of times a day can reduce the obsessive tendency to track all tweets coming in, especially on mobile devices.
“Every time you pick up your mobile phone, there’s new content and our brains are drawn to novelty and newness,” Kvedar said. “It becomes controlling of you, so you have to just say I’m going to look at this a couple of times a day, and I’m going to find a way to really be efficient about trolling for what interests me.”
Search using the hourglass icon for specific health and fitness topics. Without a targeted search, you end up with comments like “I’m filing my nails now" or "I'm eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” notes Kvedar. “Some people have very little filter for what they tweet, and it just clogs the thing up.”
The links within tweets provide the most valuable information the service offers, according to Kvedar. As part of your Twitter “information snacking,” scan for links and bits of information that you find insightful. “When there’s a link, I try to see if a short part of the tweet is intriguing and then I click on the link,” Kvedar said.
If you use products such as the Fitbit health-tracking armband or a personal health tracking tool such as MyHealthPal to keep track of your health condition, such as diabetes, all of these tools and apps have Twitter pages to stay informed of the latest product updates. Recent tweets from @MyHealthPal discuss the benefits of kale and when are the best times to take your medicine.
Researchers use Twitter to track what people eat, as noted in a study by the Journal of Medical Internet Research. “Twitter combined with an analytical software tool provides a method for capturing real-time food consumption and diet-related behavior,” the study finds. The online tool can be used just like the general Web to look for articles and tidbits of information on what’s healthy to eat.
Although you don’t want to get too personal in posting personal health information online, tweeting that you met a fitness goal, such as running 10 miles or losing 20 pounds, can be a boost to the self-esteem and inspire other people who have similar goals to continue with their fitness and diet routines.