Twitter plays a central role in the continuing medical education for many current and future Emergency Medicine physicians. While there are hundreds of active self-identified EM physicians on Twitter (and perhaps thousands more non-self-identified EM doctors, doctors from other specialties, and students with an interest in the field), Twitter-using EM docs are still the exception, not the rule (Lulic I, Kovic I. Emerg Med J, 2013). Despite the many reasons that an EM doctor can benefit from being on Twitter (my slides from recent SUNY Downstate conference), convincing “would-be’s” to sign up for Twitter accounts frequently presents challenges. Here are some suggestions for bringing new voices to the Free Open Access Medical Education (#FOAMed) conversation happening 24-7 on Twitter.
Tips to Engage New Twitter Users
- Ask your residency or medical school leadership if you can give a talk to your residents/medical students about FOAM and Twitter. Use the slides that Drs. Nikita Joshi, David Marcus, Jordana Haber, and I created as guidance. Demonstrating the EM content on Twitter speaks for itself, but your enthusiasm helps.
- Consider cross posting your Twitter posts onto you Facebook profile for a while where you EM friends can see how and what you post. This models how Twitter can be used by an EM doctor, without having to clear the barrier of getting anyone to join. Worried that this may annoy some of your Facebook friends, especially non-medical professionals? Take heart. I have mostly found that my non-medical friends comment that they enjoy the shop talk, even if they admit to understanding very little of it! You can easily undo Facebook cross-posting later if you don’t like your experience with it.
- Follow people you know in real life who join Twitter. Similarly, if anyone follows you the same day or next day after you give a FOAM/Twitter talk, follow them back. Sure, many of us do not follow every person who follows us, but when it is someone from your own institution or someone you just lectured to, you should make that exception.
- Make new users you’ve recruited feel welcome. Send a tweet with a new user’s name and the #FOAMed or #FF hashtag. #FF is shorthand for “follow Fridays” and is a recommendation of someone to follow. These tweets tend to be sent on Fridays.
- Retweet content by new users you know. Retweet virtually anything a new user tweets that is relevant to FOAM, EM, or medicine in general. Retweet the first couple of tweets from a new user you know, even if the tweets are not terribly interesting (it’s hard to get a feel for it at first, remember?) Remember the buzz you got when someone first retweeted you? Retweeting brings people into the community faster by demonstrating the power of Web 2.0 to reach a wide audience in a matter of seconds.
- Favorite the tweets of new users you’ve recruited. While retweeting is probably the bigger compliment (because suddenly the newbie’s thoughts are reaching dozens, hundreds, thousands of people), “favoriting” is a nice nod as well.
- Engage new users in the conversations that are ongoing by tagging them in tweets or asking their opinion, especially in areas you happen to know they have expertise/opinions. Many new Twitter users will prefer to observe at first, which of course is fine. But engaging new users in the #FOAMed conversation may increase their likelihood of giving Twitter more time to all sink in before giving up too soon.
- Offer to help new users make sense of what is happening on their Twitter feed. Show them hashtags, how reply-to conversations work, and direct messaging. This isn’t as intuitive to learn as you might think and can be off-putting at first.
- Tweet interesting FOAM content after you give a talk about FOAM and Twitter. Prepare some interesting FOAMed tweets before your talk and tweet them later that day or the next day. One thing that can kill momentum is when a slew of new users get on Twitter and very few good tweets happen to go out that day, or you aren’t participating. Showing new users that you are involved is a great demonstration of how it all works.
Twitter participation in EM and medicine is growing rapidly
In 2011, just 31 active Twitter accounts referred to the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine conference’s national conference in the United States (#SAEM11).1 In 2012, Twitter use had grown such that at the International Conference on Emergency Medicine (#ICEM12), 66%* of conference-related tweets related came from non-attendees all over the world.2 By 2013, hundreds of active Twitter accounts tweeted about the Social Media and Critical Care Conference in Sydney (#SMACC13) with millions of Twitter “impressions”. As our ALiEM editor-in-chief Michelle Lin has said, Twitter is the global “watercooler” for Emergency Medicine, providing links to great content and providing a milieu for conversations and debates about hot topics. But we still need more voices to expand the collective knowledge base of the conversation, to increase niche expertise representation, and to provide even more inspiration for continuing adult learning online.
* Aug 5, 2013: Fixed statistic from 34% to 66% thanks to Dr. Andy Neill’s comment.