I recently gave a lecture on Social Media to medical student leaders at Indiana University. The experience energized me. It also promoted thought-provoking questions. Let’s consider two of the best questions. This one came by email.
I was wondering if you have any suggestions on how to write a twitter post to direct people to a blog you’ve written without it sounding self-serving. Is it enough to just say something to the extent of “I’ve written something new. Check it out.” Or is it better to give an excerpt or something to that effect? Is it even good form to self-publicize on Twitter.
The first thing to consider: Why does this younger think I have the answers? What are my social media qualifications?
Herein lies a novel aspect of social media. There are no courses, no certificates. Nary is there a template. That’s different than medicine, law, engineering, journalism, and many other fields, where becoming an expert requires doing basic coursework and passing structured instruction. In social media, you don’t need a certificate. In fact, those with purported credentials often seem less compelling.
How (or where) does one learn social media then?
Two places. Mostly, you learn on your own, gradually, through trial and error, and sometimes through ‘tough’ experiences. Mistakes always teach us the most. The other place of learning highlights the very core of the student’s questions: In social media, you learn from others who have shared their experiences along the way. I got my start on Twitter from this 2010 blog post written by Dr. Wes Fisher. Wes simply wrote down some of the lessons he learned along his path. There are now hundreds of blog posts out there that help in this way.
I don’t think I’m an expert in social media. I’m a learner. It’s just that when I learn something, I write it down, and sometimes that helps someone. My son said to me recently: “it is amazing that all you do is write down your thoughts and people follow you.” This surprises him because he knows how goofy I am, and, that I have no idea how to use the who/whom rule. Plus, he’s already heard a lifetime of Mandrola-isms. (Insert grin)
Internet geologist Susannah Fox captured the idea in this recent tweet.
That is the big picture. What about the question of…“How to write a twitter post to direct people to a blog you’ve written without it sounding self-serving.”
My answer to the self-serving issue is don’t worry about it. Everyone on social media understands its inherent self-serving nature. But that’s no different than real-life communication. Somewhere I have a quote that says all unsolicited advice is self-serving. In fact, you could take it further: how often is anything we do completely and utterly selfless?
That doesn’t mean there aren’t limits to self-promotion. Pomposity and shallowness are easily ferreted out on social media, just like in real-life. If all you are interested in is making a buck through self-promotion, I’m not following you. If, on the other hand, you have something to say that interests me, educates me, maybe even entertains me, than I want you to promote your post. That way, I can see it or share it with others.
The second question addressed a similar issue:
I’m just a medical student, why would anyone care what I thought?
This one is easy. People care.
But even if they didn’t, it is still worth writing about that which intrigues you. For when you write, you think, you organize, you learn more thoroughly. This is good in and of itself. I have no data to support this thesis, but I strongly believe that blogging has made me a better, more aware, more informed doctor. And this: the more something intrigues you, the better will be the writing. If I wrote about lactate thresholds, I’d be awful.
People care about medical blogs because they provide useful information. The key word here being useful. The Internet overflows with medical information, yet there is a dearth of candid real-life voices. Only a fraction of doctors have a presence online. There are many examples. Take healthcare reform: yes, you want to read the Harvard PhD in the NEJM. But isn’t it more compelling to hear from the struggling rural doctor in middle America? Think about how much better the Affordable Care Act would have been if policy makers listened more attentively to voices from the real world.
At the same medical student leadership conference, Dr. Richard Gunderman, now a famous writer with The Atlantic, spoke of the importance of narrative. “If you can tell a story, you are a leader. Stories are powerful. Medicine is story-penic.” I agree. The practice of medicine is rich with important narratives. It is crazy not to write them down. Dr Gunderman reminded us that there are things in Medicine that need to be said. It takes courage to speak candidly. “If you are courageous, you are a leader.”
Social media makes me optimistic. It is a powerful tool that gives influence to those who toil in the real world. All you have to do is care enough to speak candidly and thoughtfully. Giving influence to passionate people–for whom healthcare matters–has to be a very good thing.