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5 Things Every MD Should Know Before Using Twitter

Let’s face it, Twitter isn’t that hard to figure out. The interface is intuitive and a little time on the application makes its basic function pretty obvious. But there are a couple of things that medical newbie’s might keep in mind before taking the leap on to Twitter. While I didn’t find myself in any kind of trouble, I had to figure a few things out on my own.

1.  Follow and listen.  Twitter is as much about listening as it is about talking. The best thing you can do to see how doctors are using microblogging to advance their platforms, practices and passions is look and listen. Pick a group of doctors (look at my follow list for some ideas) and follow them for a couple of weeks to see exactly what they do and how they interact with others. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

2.  Goof around now, but ultimately think how you want to use it. You likely won’t have any idea about how to use Twitter when you first jump in. And that’s okay. You can’t understand it’s power until you reach a sweet spot of followers and cultivate relationships that have some history and meaning (in Twitter terms, of course). Ultimately you do want to think about connecting with those who will put you where you want to be – whether it’s just raising your profile as an author or specifically drawing patients for lapband surgery, or whatever. But also keep in mind that you may start by goofing off and never stop … like me.

3.  You can follow whoever you darn well please. The world is full of self-ordained social media experts who spend their days working to make you feel like you don’t follow enough people. If you’re a physician with a real job you’re too busy to follow 30,000 people. Keep your eye on the ball and think about the network you want to develop. Whatever you do, don’t believe the nonsense that it’s ‘bad etiquette’ to not follow someone who follows you.

4.  Your patients and your hospital are listening. Social media is interesting. While we type in the privacy of our boxer shorts, the world reads what we write. And that includes your patients. While my grandmother used to tell me before going out, ‘don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of the Virgin Mary, I’m telling you, don’t Tweet anything you wouldn’t want your patients to see. You represent your personal brand, practice, and profession with that very first tweet. Keep in mind that some hospitals have social media/blogging policies. You might look into this before taking the plunge. If you keep your hospital/institution off your bio, commit to never discuss anything relating to patients and always vow to be a really nice guy you should be good.

5. What happens on Twitter stays on Twitter. Remember that everything you type will remain etched in the infosphere for eternity. This can be retrieved by future employers, partners, soon-to-be-ex-spouses or anyone else interested in seeing or exploiting what you’re really about. Exercise intelligent transparency. Be smart and use your frontal lobe before hitting ‘update’.

I was interviewed by the AMA News last week on doctors and Twitter and that’s what got me thinkin’ about this post.  I get a charge out of helping doctors recognize the power of connecting beyond their immediate environment. I hope this helps.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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