Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Twitter MDs Can Change the World. Not so much.

On Tuesday of this week in response to somewhat of a groundswell of enthusiasm about physicians needing to have a presence on social media, I posted a blog about MDs relating to potential patients on Twitter. I received a thoughtful comment agreeing with me that MDs probably will not be able to use Twitter to market themselves or engage in discussions with patients. The commenter went on to say that Twitter might be a vehicle for communicating and educating, maybe even altering public opinion. She said has only 100 followers but is being followed by someone with 1000 followers. Therefore a tweet that she makes could conceivably be retweeted many times.

I don’t think so.

Before I read that comment, I was going to call this post “How Twitter Makes Me Feel Insignificant.” Here’s why.

According to PeerIndex and Klout [two social media rating services], I am well above the mean for influence on Twitter. I thought, “Well, that’s pretty good for someone who has only been on Twitter for a year.” Then reality reared its ugly head.

The population of the US is estimated at 312 million people. Only 42 million or so US residents use Twitter. I have about 570 followers. This represents about 0.00018% [560/312M] of the US population. Of my 570 followers, at least 25-30% are commercial organizations or individuals. I’m not sure how religiously they are following me. In addition, many of my followers are following well over 100 people. I am following about 70 people and can’t keep up with their tweets. I realize some people may be using lists to narrow their focus. But I'm listed by only 48 people. All this leads me to doubt that many people are holding their breath waiting for my next witticism.

Only about 20 people regularly respond to my tweets with replies or retweets and they don’t all respond to the same material. If I’m lucky, I might get five replies/retweets for a single tweet of mine. Amazingly, this makes me influential. I’m not a “rocket surgeon” so I don’t exactly understand how this could be.

Most doctors on Twitter have rather modest numbers of followers.

I just don’t see how we will be changing the world with tweets. On the other hand, you might be satisfied if you can enlighten one person about an important issue. Maybe that's good enough. [Yikes! A ray of hope from a confirmed skeptic.]

1 comment:

Emily Lu said...

Huh. That's not what I got from your previous post AT ALL. What I got was that we need to quit deluding ourselves into thinking that Twitter is actually a mass marketing tool ... because most of the "market" aka patients aka normal people don't actually use twitter. Instead, I see Twitter as a way to talk to other interesting and interested people from across the country and the world - that includes connecting with other medical students and doctors, but also e-patients, patient advocates and other techies interested in health.

My thinking and understanding of the world as a medical student and a leader within my community (which is currently confined to my medical school, the places where I do service, etc.) has certainly been developed and shaped through my conversations on Twitter, and I'm sure other Twitter users do the same. My modest proposal is that through those connections, we train the next generation of leaders. Who can go on to change the world.

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