If you live with a chronic illness or have an interest in a specific health condition, you will find that Twitter can be one of the most exciting ways to let others know about it, even if you have little or no budget.
Here are 16 things to know if you plan to use Twitter for your health awareness campaign:
Setting up your Twitter account to be successful from the beginning:
 Decide if you will be using your personal account (with your name for example) or an account that is more geared just toward the illness campaign. People involved in the campaign may not be interested in your personal Twitters. To increase your Twitter followers it is important to have a Twitter account that describes your cause and uses your logo.
 Design an informative background for your Twitter account that is colorful and includes all of your important information, such as event dates, hashtags, and contact information. You can upload your image under “settings.” Most Twitter pages have a background image that does not take into consideration that most of it is hidden behind the Twitter messages. The best image is 540 pixels high x 540 pixels wide. Your information to be read should be in the first left 124 pixels.
 When planning an event or cause, come up with an effective hashtag and don’t be afraid to tell everyone to use it when referring to your specific event in their tweets. This way anyone can quickly search Twitter and find tweets specific to your cause. Remember, the shorter the better! In case you don’t know, hashtags are the # symbol you see in front of words like #illness. The hashtag for National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, for example, is #iiwk09. This is an annual event, so by adding the year onto the end of the tag, one can find information for any particular year.
 If you want people to retweet your tweets, take the time to write and research to find tweets that they will want to comment on or retweet. Experiment, as you may be surprised what people find worthy of action. Tweets can be statistics, quotes, proverbs, or facts. Link to blogs or articles, or even tweet lists For example, tweet one “step” or “how to” tip a day from your list.
 When preparing your Tweets keep them as short as possible so that people can retweet them without cutting anything off. You want people to be able to write RT(space)@YOURNAME. How many characters does that equal for you? Plus, leave room for a short link and a hashtag.
 When you post a link in your twitter post, be sure to utilize a link shortening service. I have followed another expert’s advice and usually put my link at the front of the tweet, so it’s not cut off when people retweet it and comment on it.
Twitter etiquette you should know:
 Start following fellow nonprofits that have Twitter accounts set up. Find others who have the illness of your cause and follow them. But remember to engage in conversation. Don’t just post and then ignore comments.
 Be generous by retweeting other posts if the information will be beneficial to your audience. If you are following people you admire who are experts in their area, it won’t be difficult to find interesting posts to retweet.
 Jump in to participating in Friday Follows, recommended other Twitter-ers who tweet on your topic. And don’t forget to say thank you when people add you to their Friday Follows or retweet your messages. If you have hundreds of these it may not be possible, but do your best to publicly say thanks by making a post with their Twitter names.
 There are many Twitter applications that can give you the ability to set up a direct message to automatically be sent to anyone who follows you. Take advantage of this by offering a link to a helpful article, a free download, or some other perk. Don’t waste people’s time by just saying, “Thanks for the follow.”
How you can improve the worth of your twitter posts and increase the number of followers:
 Considering taking your best tweets and turning them into an article for your blog or article directories.
 Through Twitter software applications you can post your tweets to your blog automatically, or have your blog notify Twitter automatically whenever you have posted a new blog.
 Some people may be interested in helping your cause by retweeting your facts or other tweets, but they miss a few. Make it easy by posting all of your tweets in one place on your blog. Some Twitter applications can automatically post them all to a “category” on your blog. You can use the TweetMeme application on your blog if you want visitors to also view how many others are retweeting your tweets.
 Give away prizes to those who follow or retweet, but make sure the prize is not a bribe to increase your number of followers (who may not even be interested in the content) but rather a way to say thanks.
 Post your Twitter feed everywhere you can including other social networks: your blog, web site, profiles at Facebook, My Space, Plaxo, etc.
 Don’t forget to let everyone know your Twitter address! Post it in your email signature, on your blog’s sidebar, your web address footer, and beside “contact us.” This is one of the simplest ways for people to be more invested in your cause than if they just had your email, but not as much of commitment as signing up for your newsletter yet.
Twitter is one of the fastest growing ways to communicate with people today as major news journalists, and even the president are joining in. Even if you are not yet entirely committed to Twittering daily, at the very least set up an account for your cause and start following a few leaders in your field and gradually learn how it could be a benefit to add to your communication tools.
Lisa Copen is the person behind National Invisible Illness Awareness Week and author of the amazing little book that is changing lives, Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend.