I was thumbing through my issue of Family Medicine (the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine's journal) last week when I came across "Twitter Use at a Family Medicine Conference: analyzing #STFM13." I knew that this article was on its way; its lead author, Dr. Ranit Mishori, had contacted me to ask for some of my thoughts about using Twitter at conferences several months ago.
The study authors examined every tweet with the #STFM13 hashtag related to the 2013 Annual STFM conference from 3 days prior to the conference, during the conference, and for 3 days after the conference. They found that nearly 70% of the tweets were directly related to session content, about 14% were more social, and the remainder related to logistics and advertising. They also grouped the top reasons attendees gave for tweeting into four categories: information sharing, networking and connectedness, advocacy, and note taking.
Several of my comments made their way into the article about why I tweet at conferences. Tweeting allows me to simultaneously take notes and share interesting facts with the Twitter-verse. It's easy to read through my tweets when I get home and review what I learned along with the action steps I need to take. I also enjoy the dialogue and camaraderie that happens during the conference on Twitter; it's great to respond to other people's comments and factoids as well as see their responses to mine. By enabling supportive, meaningful dialogue among conference attendees, Twitter helps us to engage more deeply with the conference content.
Upon reading the article, I saw my Twitter handle (@SingingPenDrJen) named as the top tweeter for the conference. I was both a little proud and a little dismayed; it's nice to be an "influencer," but maybe I'm tweeting too much? Outside of what the article terms "social" tweets (which are not the majority of my tweets), I try to only tweet session content that is new, insightful, and/or practice changing. I'll definitely be more mindful of what I tweet at the next conference I attend.
Only a small percentage of STFM 2013 conference attendees were on Twitter; just 13% of conference attendees tweeted at least once, and over half of the total number of tweets were sent by 10 people. Many of the people sitting next to me in conference sessions asked me about tweeting and why I do it. When I offered to assist them with getting on Twitter, most politely declined, usually with comments about "I don't have the time" and the how intimidating new technology is ("I can't even figure out my EHR!" one person said).
I'd love to see more family docs on Twitter and other social media sites, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. From 2012 to 2013, the number of tweeters at the STFM conference didn't budge much. The diffusion of innovations theory postulates that a critical mass of early adopters have to embrace a change before the majority will follow suit; are we still waiting for that critical mass, or will this particular theory end up not applying to family docs and Twitter, with a significant number of docs not ever using it?
Spreading the word about the positives of an online presence may be a step in the right direction. A recent article in Family Practice Management reviews several social media platforms and discusses benefits of having a robust online presence. The article describes using social media to provide office updates and patient education. Perhaps equally valuable is proactively managing your online presence, so that patients see more than just third-party website patient reviews of you when they put your name into a search engine. At the end of the article is a list of simple, practical starting points for getting online in ways that benefit both patients and docs.
I hope to see more articles exploring how we as family docs connect and communicate online. The AFP social media presence -- with Facebook, Twitter, and the Community Blog -- provides a great way to engage with both our content and family docs in general. Keep the replies, retweets, and Facebook posts coming!