How Ottawa Public Health blends humour and health advice on Twitter

Local public health units have been an indispensable source for advice on how to stay safe during a pandemic. But one health unit in Canada has been able to blend that health advice with humour, making it the most-followed local public health Twitter account in North America.

More than 113,000 people follow Ottawa Public Health on Twitter. The witty and light-hearted nature of the tweets have allowed the public health unit’s reach to extend far beyond the nation’s capital.

In February, after the Super Bowl, Ottawa Public Health tweeted, “WHAT AN AMAZING #SuperBowlLV!! Congratulations to the (*Bruce, make sure to put the winning team’s name here).”

That tweet gained more than 9,000 likes, making it one of the account’s most popular tweets.

The man being behind the account isn’t anyone named Bruce, but rather Kevin Parent, who is the social media lead at Ottawa Public Health.

“The entire goal with everything we do is to speak with people and not to people,” Parent told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “We’re trying to be as human as we can, as relevant as we can. Not just have big, high-level corporate speak and just have conversations with our audience.”

That human touch can be seen even when Ottawa Public Health is dispensing serious public health advice. Parent and his team will sometimes prepare multi-tweet threads whenever “major shifts” occur.

“Threads were intended for major shifts. Things that couldn’t be explained in 1 tweet. We’d planned to use one every 6-7 weeks. But this is our third thread in a month. And we’re writing this one because we’ve hit a critical point,” the public health unit tweeted in October, as the number of cases was starting to creep back up.

In another widely-shared tweet, the health unit wrote, “Not sure who needs to hear this, but ‘perfect’ is cancelled until further notice… Just do the best you can, & if that varies from one day to the next, that’s ok.”

But Parent says it’s important to be mindful of the mood when it comes to making humorous tweets in order to avoid appearing insensitive.

“It’s part of the listening that we do. We pay attention to the mood and the feel and there will be times where there is something in the queue that is more light-hearted and we’ll just agree that you know what, the mood’s not right so let’s shelve it and move on.”​

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