Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lessons Learned Using Twitter at a Medical Conference

Now that I have had some time to digest the tweets from the AAHPM conference I wanted to talk about some of the insights gained from utilizing Twitter at a medical conference. (Click here if you need a quick update on Twitter)
How Twitter Was Effective:

Extending The Message: 30 people used Twitter to post 224 times using the #AAHPM tag/label. But that is only the first tier of information spreading. Those 30 people on Twitter had followers who also were exposed to the Tweets from the conference. The graph shows the followers per user who had at least one post with #AAHPM. The stats for the group posting AAHPM related tweets are:

Average number of followers: 220
Median number of followers: 70
Minimum number of followers: 5
Maximum number of followers: 1,424
Total number of followers for the 30 Tweeple: 6,621 (not checked for redundancy)

While the followers on Twitter may have redundancy (i.e. @doclake follows me and @johnmulder), redundancy of connections is actually good (to a degree) to ensure everyone in a group 'knows' the same thing.

Self-Correcting: A particular exchange between myself and @justfab demonstrated the power of networks to self-correct or heal.
While this was only one example, with a larger social network any incorrect fact could be rapidly corrected (or perpetuated as well). I thought this was pretty impressive to occur in just under 2.5 hours. Wikipedia has accomplished rapid error checking and vandalism correction in the same way but with a humongous social network.

Augmenting Face to Face Discussions: I only had a handful of face to face discussions that were directly related to any particular post I did, but in general people were talking about Twitter as a new tool for communication within our specialty and I see that as a good thing. I gave many Twitter lessons from my Blackberry or laptop throughout the conference. I found the most effective way to understand Twitter is to put it within the context of real world/face-to-face relationships.

Variety of Uses for Twitter: With a new method of communication it is helpful to sort out the norms, and the different ways in which it may be useful. With out small size first tier network of Tweeple some of the following methods may not have been as effective, but with a growing network they may be useful in the future:

Announcements of upcoming sessions
Announcing lost items
Announcing parties
Tips for places to go for food/entertainment
Quotes from speakers
Reporting from talks
Quick polls for information from followers
Providing links from speakers talks
Finding other HPM related Twitter users
Notes service/highlights of conference

Keys to getting Twitter to be effective:

Developing a user base comfortable with Twitter: There was a large growth in hospice & palliative medicine (HPM) professionals using Twitter in the few weeks leading up to the Annual Assembly. But many users who signed up for Twitter were not proficient users by the time the conference rolled around. This was evident from the varying degrees of adoption with only 30 out of an approximate 200 HPM Tweeple posting tweets. If you plan to use Twitter successfully at an upcoming meeting or anytime in the future, make sure when people sign up they understand how to effectively participate.

Developing a higher degree of interconnectedness: Just adding an account to follow one or two people does not encourage conversations. Networks are more efficient at transmitting information when multiple users (nodes) have a high degree of interconnectedness.

Overcoming health care professionals concern about public online communication: Twitter has not been widely adopted by health care professionals for many reasons: personal privacy, HIPPA concerns regardless if true or perceived, and thinking it is just another form of email. More work should be done to educate health care workers about how to protect one's identity online and appropriate etiquette as well as addressing legal and ethical concerns for health care professionals.

Overall I would say this was a successful experiment. But as with any experiment more work needs to be done!