Scientists on social media: are we preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?

I’ve just return from a very pleasant couple of days at ICPIC in Geneva. One of the sessions there was about social medial for healthcare professionals. I’ve had a question on my mind for a while about conference tweeting – it’s good fun and helps me to remember stuff, but is it effective in sharing science outside of tight professional networks? Eli P flagged this fascinating paper, which provides evidence that Twitter can be a useful tool to share science outside of your professional network (‘outreaching’), but you need a certain threshold of followers to do it effectively.

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What makes a tweet fly at conferences?

A study just published in ICHE investigates tweeting activity at several IPC / ID / AMR conferences (the 2016 editions of IPS, ID Week, FIS/HIS, and ACIPC). Perhaps the most interesting finding is that including a weblink or tweeting on certain topics (including C. difficile and the media) increase the chances of a tweet being retweeted, whereas, surprisingly, including a picture reduces the changes of a tweet being retweeted.

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Reflections from Infection Prevention 2016


As is now becoming traditional, I thought I’d share a few reflections from the recent IPS conference in Harrogate. Fantastic to see the submitted abstract published, full and free, in a Journal of Infection Prevention supplement.

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Reflections from ECCMID: the pink, the blue, and the new


I’ve recently returned from an enjoyable few days in Amsterdam for ECCMID. I’ve not been to a conference of this scale for a few years; there was a lot of good stuff to choose from so I’ve tried to stick to key updates for the purposes of this reflection!

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Social media survey for healthcare professionls: the results

I gave a presentation at ECCMID today on social media use by healthcare professionals (you can download my slides here). Since there isn’t a great deal of data around social media use by healthcare professionals, I thought I’d generate some! I put out this survey a few weeks ago. I was delighted that 749 healthcare professionals took the survey; thanks to everybody who took part.

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Survey of social media use by healthcare professionals

social media montage

I have been asked by ECCMID to do a talk on ‘Selling your colleagues and society: how to use social media.’ While there is some good data on social media use by scientists, I was struggling to find specific data on social media use by healthcare professionals. So I thought I’d generate some (and in doing so, generate the power of social media!). So, I have put together a short, simple survey that I hope you will have time to complete here.

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Why infection prevention and control teams should be on Twitter!

twitter birdie 2

Guest bloggers Fiona Reakes-Wells and Carolyn Dawson write…

“Are you going to twit that?” honorary IPC team member (my mother) asked one day when I took a picture. “Will I be famous?”.

Twitter, tweet, retweet, hashtag, Follow Friday (FF) are commonly used jargon you will find in your friendly “twictionary”, however these days they are also terms you will often hear used in your daily lives.  The small blue Twitter bird symbol is used by the media, advertising companies, universities, and even governmental departments for quick and concise information sharing with the masses.  However under its umbrella term of ‘social media’, Twitter is met with scepticism by some people, a frivolous exercise opening yourselves up to criticism and destroying professionalism.  But is this truly the case?

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Twitter for healthcare professionals: useful or a waste of time?


An unusual review has just been published by Clinical Infectious Diseases by Debra Goff, Ravina Kullar and Jason Newland entitled Review of Twitter for Infectious Diseases Clinicians: Useful or a Waste of Time?”. As a keen reader of the journal, and a keen Twitter user, I found the article to be a fascinating read.

The authors make a strong argument that Twitter is a better fit with our “always on” culture than traditional forms of communication: and cite the fact that ‘UpToDate’ has pretty much replaced textbooks. However, I was interested to read that around 1.5% of all Twitter users are healthcare professionals (75,000 / 5,000,000). Does this mean that healthcare professionals are underrepresented on Twitter, since around 6% of the UK workforce work in the healthcare sector (1.4 m / 23 m)?

One interesting section addresses the accuracy of data on Twitter, which you’d expect to be somewhat flaky. However, an interesting analysis of tweets related to the H1H1 swine flu outbreak identified a surprising degree of accuracy. For example, 90% of the tweets contained a reference to source information where considered necessary, and <5% of tweets were classified as misinformation / speculation.

The article serves as a “how-to” guide, with a basic overview of what Twitter is and how it works. There’s also a useful list of people and organizations to follow to get you started (including ‘lil old me, I’m delighted to say)! The table of ‘Twitter Terminology’ is especially useful: this would have been a much-used resource for me if available when I started out on Twitter and didn’t know my retweet from my favorite!

From a personal viewpoint, I was pretty resistant to the idea of Twitter. How did I feel about putting myself ‘out there’ is such a public space? I have to admit though, my experience of Twitter for professional use has been unanimously positive:

  • It’s a very personalized newsfeed – I pick up on a lot of useful new data.
  • I’ve not had any ‘trolling’ whatsoever. Yes, some challenging, frank discussions. But nothing nasty.
  • I try hard to fit Twitter into my schedule and not let it take over my life. My general rule is that what goes out on Twitter is what I do anyway – so it’s pretty much time-neutral. In reality, it’s not quite time-neutral, but it’s pretty close.
  • It goes hand in hand with this blog. Sometimes 140 characters just won’t do – and that’s where this blog comes in!
  • I’ve made some really useful new contacts (not least Debbie Goff and Jason Newland, two of the review’s authors).
  • Live-tweeting conferences is a lot of fun; it has added a lot of value to my conference experience, and has served as notes for more comprehensive reports. (My conference experience has been enhanced further by Symplur Healthcare Hashtags analytics, which is also mentioned in the review.)

So, ‘Twitter for healthcare professionals: useful or a waste of time?’ It’s unrealistic to expect Twitter use to be completely time-neutral, but I do think that you can get close to that and add a new dimension to your worklife.

Image: Charis Tsevis.