Thursday, August 23, 2018

Six #ProTips for a Successful Departmental Social Media Presence

by Heather Logghe, MD

More and more surgical departments (and departments of all medical disciplines) are realizing the value of Twitter and other social media to build their reputation, promote the treatment offerings and research of their department, and connect with potential patients, residents, and faculty. Given the recency of social media, particularly as a critical component of a department’s public presence, there is much uncertainty and limited research to guide best practices. The tips and resources shared here are based on my presentation at the 2018 Association of Program Directors in Surgery (APDS) Surgical Education Week.

#1: Be Likeable
Just as with in person interactions, niceness, gratitude, and positivity go a long way. The book Likeable Social Media by David Kerpin offers a useful pyramid representing the building blocks of a likeable business on social media. It should come as no surprise these qualities are a recipe for successful departmental social media accounts as they also align with the characteristics of a kind, empathetic, and impactful physician.

#2: Be visual
Bar graph by Buffer showing number of retweets that tweets with images get compared to tweets without imagesEye-tracking studies on internet readers show users spend more time looking at relevant images than text: visual content generates increased engagement over posts without. Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without and Facebook posts with images generate over 2x engagement than posts without. Visual abstracts (graphic representations of research studies and findings) are particularly effective in increasing visibility of research findings.1

#3: Be educational
Photo Credit
Vikolian et al. found that tweets containing educational content2 generated more engagement than tweets with promotional content. Their article also details their use of a Twitter journal club to compliment their traditional in-person journal club, providing a unique opportunity for residents to serve as moderators. Lamb et al. at the University of Connecticut used Twitter to disseminate ABSITE questions, significantly improving ABSITE improvement compared to those who did not participate.3 Such efforts strengthens resident learning and contribute to program branding and international influence.

#4: Be listed
Twitter has an under-utilized list function that allows accounts to create multiple lists of users that can be viewed and followed by other users. These lists are an effective tool to showcase faculty, residents, and alumni of one’s department. For example, @JEFFsurgery has designated lists for all three. Thus, with just a few clicks, prospective faculty, trainees, and patients can see abbreviated profiles and easily follow of all users in the list. Note that lists appear more polished and welcoming when all users have a photo and completed profile as seen here.

#5: Be hashtagged
Photo Credit
When users search for, or click on a hyperlinked hashtag, they are shown tweets including that hashtag, regardless of whether they follow the associated accounts. Thus hashtags are a powerful way to expand one's audience. Useful hashtags in surgery include #SurgTweeting for tweets of general interest to surgeons; specialty-specific hashtags such as #plasticsurgery and #colorectalsurgery; disease-specific hashtags; education-oriented hashtags including #MedEd, #SurgEd, and #FOAMsurg (“free, open-access medical education” in surgery); and #ILookLikeASurgeon for tweets highlighting gender equity, diversity, and humanism in surgery. Finally most surgical conferences have a designated hashtag.

#6: Be smart, be respectful
Since the advent of social media, many have worried about physician professionalism and the potential for violation of patient confidentiality. It turns out that 1) physicians are as capable of conducting themselves professionally online as they are offline and 2) physicians have much to discuss without the inclusion of protected health information.4 That said, common sense and courtesy are essential. My advice is to consider whether something would be appropriate to share on a crowded hospital elevator. If not, it does not belong on social media.


1. Ibrahim AM, Lillemoe KD, Klingensmith ME, Dimick JB. Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Social Media: A Prospective, Case-control Crossover Study. Ann Surg. April 2017. doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000002277

2. Nikolian VC, Barrett M, Valbuena VS, et al. Educational content and the use of social media at US departments of surgery. Surgery. 2018;163(2):467-471.

3. Lamb LC, DiFiori MM, Jayaraman V, Shames BD, Feeney JM. Gamified Twitter Microblogging to Support Resident Preparation for the American Board of Surgery In-Service Training Examination. J Surg Educ. 2017;74(6):986-991.