Twitter has quickly become one of the most effective ways of sharing with the world what you believe is important.

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:

Preparing to have an effective Twitter account from the start:

[1] First, decide if you want to use your Twitter account to share more personal information (and for example, set up your user name with your actual name) or if you'd prefer to have your Twitter account be more generalized for your specific health awareness campaign. Many times people who are involved in the campaign may not be as interested in tweets about what you did last night, but instead, how the can increase awareness about the health cause. To ensure a growing number of followers, and hence, increase your influence, it's a good idea to design your Twitter account that accurately describes your causes and be sue to use your logo as your photo image icon.

[2] Set up a good, colorful, informative background page for your Twitter account (under Settings.) Nearly all of the Twitter pages I visit have the background hidden behind the Twitters. The best background image is 540 x 540 pixels and your information that you want seen should be on the left hand side in the first 124 pixels.

[3] Tell people what hashtags to use in their Tweets so that your cause can quickly be found in the Twitter searches. The shorter the better. Hashtags are the words that you see that have the # symbol in front of them. For example, the hashtag for National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week is #iiwk09. Since it is an annual event, one can find the information for a particular year's events.

[4] Take the time to write compelling tweets that people will want to pass on as a retweet (RT). These can include statistics, facts, quotes, links to blogs or articles, or even lists (tweet one a day from your list.) I recently saw one person write a list of steps about how she became a published author. You could write "How to" or "__ Steps" to do something.

[5] Keep your tweets as short as possible despite the difficulty it can be to express yourself. Why? You want people to be able to retweet your posts without cutting them off. One should be able to type RT(space)@YOURNAME. Count those characters and find out what that equals for you. Also, be sure to leave room for a link and a hashtag.

[6] If you are posting a link in your tweet, use a link shortening service. It's also advised to put your link at the front of the message so it's not cut off when people retweet it.

Twitter etiquette to know:

[7] 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.

[8] Don't hold back in retweeting other people's tweets if you believe the information will be of interest to your audience. that will be of interest to your audience. If you are following interesting and influential people it won't be hard to discover nuggets of quality information to retweet.

[9] Get involved in Friday Follows, by posting people you admire and respect as recommended experts on your topic. When people add you as a Friday Follow recommendation or retweet your messages, remember to say thanks! Depending on the number of people who are retweeting your posts, say thanks as much as possible and tweet their twitter names in your post.

[10] 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:

[11] Considering taking your best tweets and turning them into an article for your blog or article directories.

[12] Post your tweets automatically to your blog, or post new blog alerts to your Twitter account. Just search for 'Twitter applications' to find various services that do this.

[13] 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.

[14] It's always nice to say thanks to your loyal followers and retweeters by offering giveaway prizes. Just make sure that it's a prize that is related to your cause. It doesn't matter if you increase your Twitter followers tenfold, but no one interested in your content or cause.

[15] Make it a new habit to add your Twitter feed everywhere including other social networks: your blog, web site, Facebook profile, My Space, Plaxo, etc.

[16] Remember to post your twitter address anywhere you would typically put your web site or email. It is quickly becoming some of the first information people will add from a contact's business card to their computer.

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.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Copen is the person behind National Invisible Illness Awareness Week and author of the amazing little book that is changing one life at a time, Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend.