5 Benefits of Twittering

OncologyLive, April 2009, Volume 10, Issue 4

Twitter really only wants to know one thing: "What are you doing?"

Twitter’s origins

Twitter started with the desire of a young software engineer named Jack Dorsey to know what his friends were doing in real time. Wondering if a platform could be built around the concept of a simple status update, Jack decided to present the idea to his colleagues at Obvious. Shortly thereafter, the company decided to build a prototype. Following a successful launch in August 2006, the service quickly grew, resulting in the founding of Twitter Incorporated in May 2007.

What makes Twitter unique?

Twitter is considered a microblogging site, so unlike other social networking sites, which have complex interfaces that allow customization and a multitude of other functionalities and applications, Twitter really only wants to know one thing: “What are you doing?” You can answer this question as often or as little as desired once you set up your account (see “Signing up” on page 20), which is free, but your response each time can be no more than 140 characters. In the Twitter world, where short and sweet is the motto, these microblogs are referred to as “tweets.”

As with other networking sites, you can search for friends, relatives, colleagues, groups, and organizations. Many mainstream news outlets and reputable societies have a presence on Twitter (see “Conference coverage” and “News” on pages 18 and 20, respectively), so it is not just for those who wish to know what some of their favorite celebrities are up to at the moment. Once you find individuals or entities you wish to receive updates from, you simply click a button to start following them; unlike with other sites, they will not need to approve you first, but they will be notified that you have started following them, just as you will be notified when someone starts following you. If you feel uncomfortable with someone receiving your updates, you can block them. You can also keep your updates and profile private, but this information will be public until you adjust your settings, so as with any public site, it is prudent not to post something you would prefer to keep private or may later regret posting.

While the idea of following numerous individuals and/or organizations in real time may seem like a time-consuming and daunting endeavor, how much attention you devote is entirely up to you. There are also scheduling settings that you can employ to control when you receive updates on your phone, instant messenger, or Twitter home page. So, if you do not want to receive updates while you are working, you can set your account accordingly.

5 ways oncologists can benefit from twittering

While Twitter has been criticized by many for the multitude of useless and banal updates that its members post, there are actually many ways you can make intelligent use of this service. You can use it to obtain job leads, receive the latest conference coverage, connect with other physicians and industry leaders, and as another source for oncology news. You can also establish an account for your practice and use it to provide your patients with important general information. Let’s examine each of these 5 uses in detail.

1 Job leads

Several job sites have a presence on Twitter. Two of the most applicable to physicians are GetPhysicianJobs.com and MedicalJobBuzz.com. Both of these entities also have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to, as is the case with many organizations on Twitter.

Additional job postings can be found by doing a general search, such as by entering “oncology jobs” or “physician jobs” into the general search field (not the “Find People” field, which often requires specific names before it will yield results); you can access this general search field by clicking “Search” at the very bottom of any Twitter page. A general search may bring up relevant postings from specific institutions looking to fill a position or other relevant news, such as a tweet about programs being implemented to help fill vacant positions at a particular institution. While certain tweets may not provide a direct job opportunity, they may serve as an indirect job lead if you do some additional investigating.

Once you have other individuals following you, another way to find a lead is through your own tweets; you can simply ask if anyone knows of any opportunities. However, unless your information is made private, it will be available for all to see. If you do not want to risk your employer or anyone else catching wind of your job hunt, you may be better off contacting relevant individuals privately.

2 Conference coverage

With the economy still in a slump, many institutions are sending fewer physicians to key conferences, and even physicians who own their own practices may opt not to attend in order to scale back expenses. If you find yourself in either of these situations, consider using Twitter to receive the latest conference news. You can do this by following entities that have a high likelihood of having one or more representatives in attendance, such as various medical associations and publications. Some of the organizations you can consider following include the American Cancer Society (“AmericanCancer”), American Society of Clinical Oncology (“ASCO” or “MJ Gillman”), ACOR Cancer News ( “ACOR,” “cancer news,” or “ACOR cancer news”), and, of course, Oncology Net Guide parent, HCPLive; the names/terms that appear in parenthesis are the search terms that will bring up these organizations in Twitter’s “Find People” field.

If you are following numerous physicians and other industry key opinion leaders, chances are at least one of these individuals will also be in attendance and providing meaningful tweets. By receiving information from such a diverse pool of resources, you are ensuring that the coverage you receive is well-rounded and reliable.

3 Connections

Unlike other networking sites, Twitter allows you to pretty much follow anyone, which enables you to quickly build a nice resource for yourself. Of course, the quality of the tweets you receive will ultimately depend on the organizations and individuals you decide to follow. So, if a colleague of yours is on Twitter but tends to be a negative Ned or Nancy on the job, perhaps this individual would not be the best choice to follow. If you decide to follow him or her anyway but soon regret it, you can always remove that person from your list. One way to do this is to click on his or her thumbnail, and when the page opens, simply click the “Following” button at the top of the screen, which will generate a “Remove” button below it; once you click “Remove,” that person will be omitted from your list. This ease of omitting entities paired with the ease of adding new ones is a great quality-control measure.

While you ultimately can’t control what others will tweet about, you have full control over your own tweets, so you should never post something that could get you into hot water. Even a seemingly innocuous post like “bored at work” can have serious repercussions, as a young Briton found out when she was fired shortly after posting this as her Facebook status update: www.tinyurl.com/cqub86. Try to make the most of your tweets. For instance, use them to market yourself or an event that is important to you; for example, if you are publishing a paper, spearheading a clinical trial, or presenting at a conference, you may want to let your followers know. You can also use your tweets to get opinions or answers to practice-related dilemmas; however, you should never disclose any patient or other sensitive information in the process. By keeping your posts meaningful and professional, you will make a positive impression on those who are following you and will likely gain more followers, all of which can lead to good things.

4 News

If you start following organizations such as those suggested in the Conference Coverage section, you will receive general oncology news, but you can also use Twitter to find news on specific tumor types. For instance, by typing “Breast Cancer” in the “Find People” or general search field, you will find Breast Cancer News (“BrstCancerNews”) as well as a host of other related groups and organizations. The same will be true for most other common cancers, but you will sometimes have to be creative in how you conduct your search. For instance, at the time I am writing this, searching on “Lung Cancer” yields no results when entered into the “Find People” field (though “Breast Cancer” will), but simply searching “Lung” in this field pulls up a considerable list of resources, including the American Lung Association (“American Lung Assoc”). When it comes to rarer tumors, such as leiomyosarcomas, little or no information may be available, but this too may change as Twitter catches on with more organizations. So, if searches on a particular tumor type or other topic yields disappointing results after you use both the “Find People” and general search field, consider rechecking the site in a few weeks.

You may also want to receive updates from various governmental organizations, such as the FDA and the CDC, both of which have a presence on Twitter. You can subscribe to receive FDA recall alerts by entering “FDArecalls” in the “Find People” field and clicking “Follow” when the listing pops up. If you are interested in food recalls, you can do the same by following “foodrecalls.” The CDC also has numerous streams that you can subscribe to, including CDC Emergency (“CDCemergency”), which provides CDC emergency and preparedness information; CDC e_Health Marketing (“CDC_ eHealth”), which provides science-based health and safety information in a more interactive forum (eg, video links); and CDC Flu (“CDCFlu”), which will notify you of any updates posted to the CDC Flu Website. If you are seeking more mainstream news coverage, most major news outlets are tweeting, often having an abundance of news streams that you can follow. For instance, CNN has CNN Breaking News (“cnnbrk”), CNN Political Ticker (“politicalticker”), standard CNN (“cnn”), CNN Top Stories (“CNN_top”), and a myriad of others. You will no doubt find several interesting streams to follow. Practice accounts Once you become comfortable using Twitter, you may consider setting up one for your practice or institution as another means of reaching patients. While you would never want to post any patient-specific information, you could use Twitter to keep your patients informed about important news regarding the practice itself, such as an important change in staff or a new program. You can also use it to make them aware of any new oncology news that is particularly relevant, a new clinical trial that is being conducted, or an FDA recall that could have a considerable impact on them. Patients with cancer are constantly looking for new information about their disease. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation in the cancer community. By providing them with another reliable source of information, you are taking a step toward protecting them from some of the potentially harmful information that they may encounter on their quest for knowledge. Signing up Setting up a Twitter account takes less than a minute. Go to www.twitter.com and click the big green “Get Started—Join!” button in the center of the screen. Next, complete the five required fields on the “Join the Conversation” page and click “Create My Account.” Now you can start tweeting and searching for entities (also known as twitterers) to follow; of course, we’d love for you to start following HCPLive. Happy twittering!