Why infection prevention and control teams should be on Twitter!

twitter birdie 2

Guest bloggers Fiona Reakes-Wells and Carolyn Dawson write…

“Are you going to twit that?” honorary IPC team member (my mother) asked one day when I took a picture. “Will I be famous?”.

Twitter, tweet, retweet, hashtag, Follow Friday (FF) are commonly used jargon you will find in your friendly “twictionary”, however these days they are also terms you will often hear used in your daily lives.  The small blue Twitter bird symbol is used by the media, advertising companies, universities, and even governmental departments for quick and concise information sharing with the masses.  However under its umbrella term of ‘social media’, Twitter is met with scepticism by some people, a frivolous exercise opening yourselves up to criticism and destroying professionalism.  But is this truly the case?

If you have ever been lucky enough to hear about the Coventry Experience then you’ll know that here at inf_con HQ we are all about the love. We are passionate about engaging healthcare professionals and the public with infection prevention, and use a variety of methods to share our knowledge base. Since Valentine’s Day 2013 we have been proud members of the Twitter community, an activity which we feel has contributed to recognised successes.

Here we share our thoughts on our experiences using Twitter, acknowledge some of the barriers we have faced, and offer some practical tips for other IPC teams who may be considering entering the Twittersphere …


Be excited about


#BigTeam: There are 316 million active Twitter accounts in the world.  This statement has 2 important facts, 1) the quantity = large.  That is a lot of potential new members to your team.  2) The world.  Thinking outside of your postcode, these new members could be doing your job on a different continent.

We regularly receive tweets and direct messages via Twitter from fellow infection prevention professionals (individuals and teams), organisations, private companies and students, asking for advice, support, involvement or encouragement across a wide range of topics. Recent contact includes various IPCTs, the RCN, @WeNurses, and @NurChat.  We also contact them, ask for opinions and ideas and utilise experiences.  That wheel that needs revamping?  Twitter might just know the person you are after…

Scaling back down, Twitter has helped us as a team of 11 keep in touch, even when we aren’t all working together at inf_con HQ. We have a particularly dynamic team, with team members working different shifts, in different places, and (currently) being on maternity leave. Our Twitter feed is a link, allowing remote members to keep up-to-date with what is happening “back at base”, and allowing base camp to keep up-to-date with live updates from further afield, when team members tweet from study days and conferences.

#Approachability: Twitter has helped us create and maintain a visible and approachable presence, encouraging interaction from a wide range of contacts, new and existing.  IPC teams are often met with trepidation from colleagues.  We are aiming to change this perception and in sharing our work lives and extending information and useful resources, allow Trust employees to understand the role better.

#ExternalSupport: Linking with other Twitter users has proved to be a 7-day a week, round-the-clock source of support and validation.

We don’t just give on Twitter, we take too! One of the most rewarding aspects of using Twitter for the team is other people’s reactions to our tweets. When we tweet about our latest campaigns, daily activities or research priorities, we are greatly encouraged by the positive feedback we get from the wider community. Such engagement helps reinforce that we are on the right track with our often innovative and novel approaches, especially when other IPCT and national bodies ask for more information or copies of our materials…

We know many teams are doing fabulous work within their four walls but sadly we don’t get to see it as we are busy in our own workplace.  Share it on Twitter and be #proud!  We would love to see it!


Be careful about


#BraveNewWorld: Everyone has their own level of comfort regarding technology; listening to and recognising people’s concerns about using Twitter has been key. Taking part in our social media profile, either by tweeting or appearing in tweets, is always completely voluntary. No one is made to tweet, and it has not become anyone’s additional responsibility. Where people have been sceptical about the benefits of Twitter, we have been able to provide evidence of the engagement and support we have generated. This has often been persuasive, and has led to new Twitter accounts being set up on a number of occasions.

#Trust: We trust our staff to be professional when they communicate every day. The ability to discuss delicate information and use discretion is fundamental within our team. Why then would we change our perception of our staff when considering allowing them to tweet about our team activities?

#Trolls: If you read this title and thought ogre you are not a million miles off. The term is used to describe an account / person who has responded to a tweet with an inflammatory or aggressive response, sometimes taking the subject off topic and often aiming to evoke an emotional response.  This is probably one of the largest concerns we hear voiced from colleagues about using Twitter, and is certainly something we have heightened awareness of.  Our experience of trolls has been minimum, but we do have a procedure in place if such a matter evolves.  Twitter also has rules in place and will take action if it is deemed necessary.


“I don’t know how you manage to be on Twitter all day, I’m too busy looking after patients”

This is a comment we have heard, directed pointedly and with some contempt. It was sad to hear, and on some levels disappointing as it showed lack of support but it is an important statement to bear in mind.  Our Trust has allowed our team to have desktop access to Twitter with support from our Chief Nursing Officer. We also have limited access from external devices.  Those who tweet do not have scheduled time to update the account, but do so on an ad-hoc basis where signal and time allow. It is often performed after hours, in lunch breaks and between teaching. The emphasis is always on our daily work, and this is our priority; however we try to share where we can to allow insight into our working day. The tweets are not placed by the same person everyday (feel free to try and guess who tweeted what!) and the workload is distributed between clinical and non-clinical team members.

Boundaries on social media in the work place does mean our immediate audience cannot reach us when in work, however we can see Trust staff do look outside of work hours, and the more we publicise the account the more they look.  Medical and Nursing students have different rules in university and they are our teams of the future so lots of updates are for them too.

“I’m not giving up my spare time!”

The Inf-Con Twitter account is not compulsory work within the team, and only those who wish to tweet do so.  There is no expectation of doing “extra” work, those that do it choose to; however we don’t perceive it as extra work.  Many people read journal articles or do research for continuing practice development – Twitter is another form of this.  It allows a colleague in Yorkshire to share research that has interested them, and for you to pick up the link very easily, as well as sharing an article you found.  Instead of one piece of research, you just read two, then three, then four…

“It’s unprofessional”

Twitter is new, it’s a different format and it has a huge audience but we need to embrace change and let the possibilities of Twitter excite us. Use it carefully and professionally, understand what you are sharing and be prepared for others to question you – it might not happen but if it does, be sensible and stay calm.


Fiona Reakes-Wells

Carolyn Dawson

twitter ipct

Follow Team inf_con at @uhcw_inf_con

Image: Jurgen Appelo.

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