Friday, September 14, 2012

Twitter 101 for Surgeons: How to set up a professional Twitter account


Since starting my own personal Twitter account nearly a year ago, I have mentored numerous peers and faculty on how to get started. I’ve noticed that most surgeons have similar questions and concerns. Below I have detailed the most common questions along with my answers.


Twitter? Isn’t that just a bunch of people talking about what they ate for breakfast? Think again. Twitter is about who you follow. Sure, you can choose to follow celebrities and people who tweet pictures of the donuts they eat for breakfast, but the beauty of Twitter is that you don’t have to. Think of Twitter as millions of people talking at once, and by choosing who you follow, you choose who you want to “listen” to. As an aspiring surgeon, I choose to follow surgical societies, surgical journals, and leading surgeons--literally from all over the world. Through Twitter, I learn about upcoming events, the latest research, and the opinions of surgeons I look up to. I also follow influential non-surgeon physicians and patients who are effecting positive change in medicine. None of the “tweeps” I follow mention what they eat for breakfast. (Well, most of the time anyway.)

But I’m not even on Facebook! Don’t be fooled by the misguided logic that if you didn’t take to Facebook, you’re not going to like Twitter. Twitter actually has a very different flavor and utility. Rather than a purely social network (like Facebook), think of Twitter as more of a “subject” network, where users share information and access it based on common interest. You can take advantage of this endless wealth of information, whether or not you are “friends” with those you are following.

Does Twitter substitute for real, live, face-to-face interaction? No, however it often leads to it. On multiple occasions I have met surgeons and medical students via Twitter whom I then chose to meet in person. Not only did Twitter provide me with these professional connections I would not have otherwise had, it also gave us a common ground to start from, enabling a solid introduction before even meeting. This allowed us to hit the ground running.


Do I really have to join Twitter to stay “on top” of the field of surgery? Of course not, but you may be missing out on a powerful way to connect with your colleagues and learn from others both inside and outside of medicine.
That sounds nice, but I’m afraid I don’t have the time. I’m not going to tell you that Twitter doesn’t take time. As a surgeon, you know that most endeavors that are worthwhile do have a learning curve and do take time. However you do not have to become a Twitter expert overnight. Tread slowly but confidently. I will lay out some basic steps to get you started.

1.   Open a Twitter account at www.Twitter.com. All you need is an email address.

2.   Set up your profile. For your Twitter handle (that “@thing”), I recommend choosing something as close to your real name as possible. Try @FirstLastMD or @DrFirstLast or any variation thereof.

Do I have to log in everyday? Definitely not. Twitter is not something that you have to “keep up” with. You do not need to read every tweet. I repeat: You do not need to read every tweet. It’s like the news. It’s interesting when you feel like tuning into it, but it’s fine if you don’t as well. I like to log into Twitter with a cup of tea. Others might sneak a peek at their Twitter feed while waiting between cases or in line at the grocery store.

I’m not sure I want to use my real name, isn’t it better to be anonymous? No. The days of maintaining an anonymous internet presence are over. Besides, you will only be posting professional tweets, and it’s important you get proper credit for your effort and contributions. Think of it this way--would you attend a conference and introduce yourself as someone else? Would you tell them a fake name just in case you said something silly and didn’t want anyone to remember you? Of course not. Consider your Twitter account an extension of your professional persona. You want it to represent you in a meaningful, memorable way.

3.   Use a real photo of yourself for your avatar (profile pic).

Can’t I use an image of a scalpel or a picture of my kids or dog? Going back to the conference analogy, picture yourself at a conference with a bag or mask over your head--kind of creepy right? You probably wouldn’t expect people to trust you or take you seriously. The same goes for Twitter. Post a real picture of yourself.

4.   Write your Twitter profile bio, in 160 characters or fewer.

My whole bio in 160 characters? Don’t stress too much about this. The important thing is to put something. You can always edit it later. For ideas, I suggest looking at the bios of other surgeons on Twitter. With the character limit, it will be slightly informal. Add your clinical interests and feel free to include something slightly personal to add character, such as you enjoy cooking or play a mean game of tennis. The goal is professional but personable.

You are now ready to confidently enter the Twitterverse. (Yes, there is a “Twitterese” version of nearly every word in the English language...)

5.   Choose some accounts to follow.

How do I choose who to follow? I recommend following liberally, as it only takes one click to unfollow someone if you do not enjoy their tweets.

For starters, I recommend following the American College of Surgeons: @AmCollSurgeons; the Association of Women Surgeons: @WomenSurgeons; and Mary L. Brandt, MD: @drmlb. Dr. Brandt is a prolific tweeter and an excellent professional example. For general medical commentary you can start by following Kevin Pho, MD: @KevinMD. Through Twitter.com you can also search for the various surgical societies of which you are a member, as well as your own academic or medical institutions.

One simple way to find surgeons on Twitter is to check out the list I have created of over 100 surgeons and surgery-related Twitter accounts. From Twitter.com, you can search “@HeatherLoggheMD” and go to my profile page. From there, click on “Lists” on the left and then “Surgery” and “List Members.” You will be presented with numerous surgeons and surgical societies. Simply click “follow” to follow those you find interesting. You will now see their tweets when you log into Twitter.

Finally, I recommend that everyone follow @TweetSmarter. They are an excellent resource for learning the unique etiquette of the Twitterverse. If you read one of their linked articles from time to time, you will become a Twitter expert in no time.

What happens when I follow someone? Do they know I’m following them? When you follow someone, they receive an email notice and have the option to click on your profile and decide whether they want to follow you back. Thus you want to maintain a professional image from the first day you sign up for Twitter.

If I receive an email that someone is following me, is it polite to follow them back? You are never obligated to follow someone back. This is the beauty of Twitter. You choose who you read and learn from. When you receive an email notice that someone is following you, I recommend clicking on their profile link. Often, you can determine whether or not you want to follow them from reading their 160-character bio. If you really want to be thorough, you can also look at their Tweets and see if their tweet content is of interest to you.

Ok. I have a profile, and I’m following a few people--now what? I recommend laying low for a bit. Spend some time skimming your Twitter feed and reading the links that look interesting. There are many unwritten rules to Twitter and it takes some time to understand how it works and how people interact.

I’m nervous about tweeting. Don’t stress about your first tweet. It’s like making an incision--hesitation suggests lack of confidence and clarity. Jump into the conversation. For your first tweet, you can try something like, "Excited to enter the Twitterverse! Eager to learn and share with fellow surgeons and beyond.” This makes it clear that you are joining Twitter to learn and be part of the conversation. This will make other Twitter users more interested in following you.

What if I don’t have anything to say? Don’t worry about having something novel or witty to say. One of the strengths of Twitter is that it fosters sharing of ideas and information. If you are reading an interesting online article and you see the option to tweet it, go for it! If you found it interesting, it’s likely that your followers will as well. Also, for many people, the majority of their tweets early on consist of “retweets.” If you like something someone else shared, retweet it!

Ok. This gives me a basic start, but I know I’m going to have lots of questions. You’re absolutely right. I recommend that everyone find a designated “twentor.” Yes, that’s a twitter mentor. This will likely be someone younger than you, though not necessarily. Find someone you feel comfortable checking in with from time-to-time with your Twitter questions. Ideally, this person will also follow your tweets and can even give you feedback via direct messages (private tweets).

What about the different kind of tweets, and what are those #hashtag things? My next post will detail some of the various types of tweets and how to get started tweeting and engaging other surgeons. In the meantime, I hope you explore the rich links in your Twitter feed. Don’t be afraid to click on the profiles of those who look interesting. You never know who you will meet!