Sunday, 23 January 2011

What I have learnt about Twitter.

A week or so ago I was listed in a BMJ Careers article as a "health professional to follow". That's quite an honour, so I thought I should write a short post to share my Twitter learning.

My first tweet is recorded here. It was on 27th May 2008 and was "preparing for a seminar on medicine and the media- thinking about health 3.0". I had just received an invitation to Twitter from a friend who works in IT. He has never quite got the twitter bug and I didn't for a few more months either.

Twitter was just one of the strategies that I chose to use to try and find (and develop) a community of people interested in medical education online. I had been to two medical education conferences in the summer of 2008 and I wanted to keep talking and sharing. My first move was to start this blog back in October 2008.(Lesson no1:  If you want to get the most out of twitter then start a blog. It doesn't matter if you don't write anything for months, you will have somewhere that allows you to share your ideas in a longer form. Twitter lets you find people but for real conversations and learning you need something that allows for  discussion and that is a blog.)

I started following two distinct groups on Twitter- those interested in learning and education, and those interested in health - much wider areas than the narrow field of medical education that I was first searching for. This has been a "good thing". Having a network which is diverse by interest and geography has maximised what I have got out of twitter. (Lesson no2: Don't just follow people like yourself on twitter. Diversify your network.)

I have tweeted a lot! But there are some things that I don't tweet about, namely anything that could break the confidentiality of the students I teach or the patients I care for. Now and again I mention something personal but rarely. I am aware that my tweets are there forever and I want to be comfortable with anyone from my mother to my boss reading them. (Lesson no3: Twitter is always public).

Lastly, twitter is good for bite-sized conversation. Don't try to make it do more than that. Tweet chats like #nhssm (NHS and social media) are good for finding people but unwieldy for learning. If you find yourself getting into a long conversation on twitter then you probably need to write a blog post instead! Then you will have the record of your thoughts and those who comment forever. Tweets can be hard to archive and find again. (Lesson no4: Twitter has limitations)

I hope that is helpful. Do you have any questions about how I use Twitter or anything you would like to share?


  1. Some good points. Confidentiality and social media is a very tricky one!

    Thanks for the post,

  2. Thanks for the post. It is important for veterans to share their best practices to newcomers.

    When it comes to archiving tweets, there are a few services worth checking out.
    TwInbox allows you to send your tweets into Microsoft Outlook, where you can archive and search by date, keyword, etc.

    The Archivist is a Windows app that allows you to save your tweets and datamine them.

    Then there is whatthehashtag to archive twitter streams that include a given hashtag.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Hello Carmen,
    Thank you! Whilst familiar with whatthehashtag (I linked to it above with #nhssm, but I'm also very aware of the limitations), the other two services are new to me. But I still hold that blogs tend to be more public and more findable. I might start archiving my twitter conversation with you, but would that mean that you could find it again? The difficulty in following conversations on twitter (which hashtags get round to a certain extent) is still one of the weaknesses.
    Great to hear from you again.

  4. Thank you, very useful for me as a newcomer, especially since I am an MD in Sweden and have no professional contacts who use Twitter. Have you ever had patients contacting you via DM's requesting medical advise and how did you deal with it in that case?

  5. Hello Jill,
    Welcome to the blog. Although any of my patients who google my name would soon find my online presence including Twitter, so far I'm not aware of any patient followers. I certainly have not had any DMs and if I had I would respond that I didn't think it was a good and safe way to talk. I'd arrange some other way to contact them- perhaps by phone. Great question!
    Anne Marie

  6. Another great post Anne Marie.

    I agree with all your lessons, though I am less concerned about tweeting personal stuff (this is a personal choice).

    I will look at Twinbox, that sounds very powerful and useful. I will also be investigating, though others may regard it as unvalidated and overly competitive...must be kept in perpective. I leant about it form your twitter feed.

    Acknowledging you as giving me the idea, I shall review my own Twitter learning in the light of your post...benefits and disadvantages given time and resources spent on it.

    One question immediately is 'are the benefits proving to be worth the resources spent?' That can only warrant a personal answer and personal tweet, though clearly they are to you, or you wouldn't do it...

    The challenge is to achieve a positive outcome other than our own satisfaction.

    Many people say they haven't got time to tweet...don't they? But if we/they could harness the benefits they wouldn't say that...

    I shall continue to endeavour to achieve outcomes and acknowledge the contributions from other people.

    Thank you for yours

  7. P.S. I think a good review, in plain language, about the negative consequences might be appropriate too. And this will have to be personal too. (I shall have a think...). i am sure there are summaries out there on which to base one's ideas


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