The challenge of recruiting new scholarly tweeters

I have blogged about this topic several times: How do you get other scholars onboard Twitter? Unless they are already there, they can be difficult to convince of the benefits of Twitter. Time constraints; horror stories of misinformation, fake profiles and a channel for spreading evil rumours; and assumptions that Twitter is the essence of annoying Facebook status updates keep popping up as reasons not to join Twitter.

And I’m not alone in experiencing this phenomena. Eva Alisic, a fellow scholarly tweeter, is also struggling with getting her colleagues to join in on Twitter discussions. Inspired by the #hcsmanz chats and #phdchat she has set up a Twitter Journal club on Mental Health Research (#traumaresearch). The challenge is however to get people on board Twitter. In order to make it easy for new Twitters to join, she has made this short video “Twitter for Academics: Instruction video”. It’s tailored to mental health researchers but contains general information as well.

It covers how to:
1. Create a Twitter account
2. Fill out your profile and send your first tweet
3. Find trauma & PTSD experts to follow
4. Use hashtags, with examples specific for research and mental health
5. Join the #traumaresearch journal club via Twitter or Tweet chat

The video is very simple and a good starting point for to-be Twitters, who are ready to face their prejudice of being bombarded with useless information about their friends everyday life, fake profiles and tons of rumours and non-trustworthy information. I hope Eva’s first #traumaresearch journal club, which took place on Friday 23. February went well and that her video has helped new tweeters to join the rest of us 🙂

What’s the point of this “academic twittersphere”?

“I don’t have time to Tweet.” “I’m not interested in what various celebrities are doing.” “I don’t know what I would get from it.”

These are typical responses I encounter when I ask academics if the are on Twitter. And I don’t blame them for their replies. Until you’re into the Twitter world it is difficult to grasp what it is all about and how in the world it can be of any use in professional academic life. For some reason it is just really hard to explain in words. The LSE Twitter Guide called Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities is a great starting point, but explaining what it is useful for is still difficult.

On the LSE Blog Impact of Social Sciences, Mark Carrigan, a third year PhD student in Sociology at the University of Warwick, gives an attempt at explaining the point of Twitter in an “academic twittersphere”. He outlines what academics can get out of the social media service and tries to illustrate that motives for academics to be on Twitter may be no more different from what motivates academics to give presentations at conferences. The reasons to go onto the podium and give a presentation or a talk may be different from person to person:

Twitter is no different. It’s a spot on the internet that’s staked out as yours. What you do with it is up to you. Some people choose to wander over to their podium every now and again, make an announcement and then wander off. Some people give their presentation at the podium and then leave, only returning when they want to give another. Some do their presentation but thrive on the Q&A afterwards. Some might not like the feel of the podium and eschew a formal presentation to go and chat more directly with their audience. Likewise some people just want to listen and ask questions of other speakers. Others would rather ditch the conference and go straight to relaxing at the pub.

Most academic users of Twitter fall into one or more of these categories. Likewise people move between categories. But the interpersonal dimensions of it are fundamentally no different to a conference

Illustrating reasons to use Twitter for academic purposes by passing on the experience from various academics gives a good feel to what Twitter can be all about and why a lot of people end up finding it incredibly useful.

Academics who are not yet on Twitter, but are considering it may find reading Mark Carrigan’s blog post useful. I at least found some good arguments to use next time I enter into a Twitter discussion with a non-tweeter.

Lots of Twitter communication about science communication

Before the year of 2011 came to an end, I did a few posts about science communication and the challenge of communicating science communication. This was inspired by various talks I had had with friends, colleagues and the planning of a masters course in Public Health Science Communication.

And as one of the first things in 2012, the #hcsmanz weekly Twitter discussion group on Health Care and Social Media in Australia and New Zealand decided to base their first chat of the year on some of my reflections. Unfortunately, I was on a plane when the discussion took place, so I couldn’t participate myself. But luckily transcripts are made of these discussions and thus also for this one!

Since I couldn’t join the discussion, I thought I’d share some highlights from it here. First of all, it was great to experience that something I put out there in cyber space triggered others to start discussing. And people whom I would have been unlikely to discuss this with otherwise. It is a great example of how sharing thoughts and views in the process can be beneficial to the bigger project/research study!

The #hcsmanz discussion was structured around five elements, which I in my blog post had highlighted as important to communicate in a course on science communication. They were converted into the four questions/statements below:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process.
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Who should researchers be communicating with and what channels can utilised?
  4. What is the secret sauce of communication that generates feedback/reaction?

These four questions (refered to as T1, T2, T3, T4 in the chat) generated a lot of interesting tweeting, not just from people in Aus/NZ but also participants from Canada and the Netherlands. Some of the interesting things that were brought forward I’ll try to summarize below supported by 23 tweets (out of hundreds) – I should probably also have used the cool tool Storify for this, but that will be next time 🙂

  • Communication is an integrated part of research, but requires that researchers are trained and the necessary support is available – both to give guidance but also to support the prioritization of spending time and effort in communication activities.

  • Communication also of non-news material is important.

  • Social media provides new opportunities for science communication, but is not yet well-regarded and knowledge is still limited among many researchers.

  • Science communication is beneficial to the research process – if you communicate with the right ones and in the appropriate way depending on who they are. The importance of making feedback easy and quick is not to be underestimated.

  • One thing is to communicate and the best ways to do that, but to communicate so that you engage your audience is an additional challenge. A keyword is to provide efficient feedback opportunities for the reader and the researcher. Social media such as Twitter and blogs provides forums for this (but does not solve the engagement challenge all together).

I could have highlighted lots of other tweets, and would as said have loved to participate in this, I hope however to join next time and continue to share thoughts and reflections with the rest of you. And big thanks to Kishan Kariippanon (@yhpo) for taking up this topic!

Can you do a lecture at university level in 25 tweets?

Last week the existence of a virtual university with its address on Twitter came to my knowledge. Svenska Twitteruniversitetet or The Swedish Twitter University as it is also named. The idea of a Twitter university was born in the mind of Marcus Nilsson (@ozonist) sort of in a random moment (read more about it here).

The concept is pretty simple. An invited speaker, that be a scientist, an academic etc. gives a lecture divided into 25 tweets (each of a maximum length on 140 characters). Each tweet must be broken naturally and thus be able to stand alone. Using the built-in Twitter limitation such as the length of a tweet is meant to stimulate creativity and challenge the tweeters to formulate their ideas as effectively and interestingly as possible. In addition to the 25 tweets, the speaker responds to questions from the followers – at least for one hour – with their responses not counting to the 25 tweets.

This week, on 13th December, a lecture on “How Apps, Smartphones, and Tablets Will Revolutionize Healthcare” was given by Jim Walker, Director Emerging Trends – Cadient Group and founder of The lecture was the seventh from the Twitter university and the first to take up a health related topic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow the lecture live, but the transcript is available on the Twitter University Website.

The transcript includes the 25 tweets and questions and responses from the followers. It is very much divided up into a presentation section (the 25 tweets) and after that an invitation to discuss. As far as I can see, there was not much discussion in this particular lecture, and many of the followers expressed disappointment in the session. I must admit that I tend to agree with the critic. The lecture was mostly a listing of a different apps (some of them definitely very cool) that are related to health care and health monitoring. There were some, but very few, reflections on how these apps will revolutionize health care and how it will play together with the exiting health care system, but no reference to experiences, literature or the like that could document this. A few weaknesses of health apps, such as new equity problems due to differences in access to smartphones and lack of IT skills and the risk of technology leading patients to forget listening to their own bodies, where brought up, but again without documentation or much more reflection.

I am not certain whether the problem with the lecture was due to this specific presentation or just an illustration of the fact that doing a lecture through 25 tweets is a big challenge. My best Twitter comparison is the #hcsm chats (chats/discussions on Health Care and Social Media), which I have actually found more rewarding. The questions and debate back and forth just seem to take better advantage of the Twitter model. Transporting a traditional (monologue) lecture to Twitter definitely requires a much more interactively thought out structure to the 25 tweets.

This Twitter university is still new however, and I find it a fun idea that could perhaps be useful. I look forward to following it and to see if the lectures will develop as the invited speakers become more acquainted with the media.

Sharing a small Twitter moment

A login on Twitter is one of my morning routines – you never know if a tweet may influence the agenda of your day and today I thought I’d share a small Twitter moment with you. This morning I came across a tweet that triggered my Health Information System past and former WHO/Health Metrics Network employer status. The tweet was the below:

In his tweet, Matthew Greenall, an advisor on AIDS & sexual health programmes in low-income countries, links to an article published in the Rwanda paper The New Times. The article, authored by Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Rwandan Minister of Health directs a well argued critic against the up-to-dateness of WHO country specific health data.

Finding the article very interesting I emailed it to a group of former WHO/HMN colleagues (none of them are on Twitter so I couldn’t tweet it to them). In sending it, I did not really reflect on the possibility that those of my colleagues still within WHO could do anything about it. I just felt like sharing it with them. One of my former colleagues, who is actually involved in health statistics from WHO, read it and responded back quickly thanking me for pointing it out, and said that she had forwarded it up the system to the people who actually are responsible for the World Health statistics and Global Health Observatory. She hoped that a dialogue could be started. I assume she primarily refered to a dialogue with Rwanda, but most definitely also a dialogue within WHO on the measures the organisation has to make sure their data evidence is up to date (which seems to be complicated by WHO itself).

I hope, however, that the dialogue could also be on WHO communication strategies and presence on social media, for example to role of Twitter in communicating and keeping up to date on current trends and affairs – not just through one official WHO account, but  also through personal or much more issue specific WHO areas.

The article by the Rwandan Minister of Health was published in what I assume to be a rather low-impact media channel (how many of you knew of Rwandan The New Times?). All though the story could be picked up by other media and passed on, I am not sure how quickly the story would reach WHO. Of course the WHO country office in Rwanda could pick up on the article and pass it on, but I would be surprised if they have not already been contacted by the Rwandan Minister of Health in relation to the outdated WHO data. It seems however in this particular case that the story travelled the fastest through Twitter, and through Twitter came to the knowledge of the right people and not just WHO communication officers (I wonder if it did?).

Although I find the critic of WHO’s data interesting it is not so much the specific story that interests me. Whether or not this particular critic will result in changes, dialogue or changed communication priorities, it was for me once again an interesting and educational Twitter experience. It was great to see how something I picked up on Twitter was passed on and landed in hands of the people who needs to know the content of the article. There really is something to that Twitter invention….

Can live-tweeted surgery be of public health interest?

Live-tweeted surgery, or twurgery as it has been named, is spreading. As written previously on this blog a number of surgeries have already invited Twitter into the operating room, for example by Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center who live-tweeted from a brain surgeryRex Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina have now joined the club by live-tweeting a hysterectomy.

Having followed a surgery live through Twitter myself, I admit that it is for some reason fascinating. I have previously watched surgeries on video and even attended some in person and yet there is some different about following it on Twitter. Apart from the fascinating element I do however struggle a little bit with the value of these twurgeries. Do they have any role to play seen from a public health perspective? Or is marketing and branding of a particular hospital or a specific technic the overriding ground for the twittering hospitals?

The main rational behind the Twitter event at Rex Healthcare was, according to their eMarketing manager, Jason Papagan to “showcase the leading edge medical procedures we have here.” [see full quote here].

Other hospitals have brought social media into the operation room for similar reasons, however most of them (including Rex Healthcare) also highlight that the objective is to serve as educational aid, informing medical students and patients about modern surgery.

For Aura Health Care, who tweeted from an awake temporal lobectomy, the objective was, apart from demonstrating their advanced brain surgery skills also to illustrate to patients suffering from epilepsy that surgical treatment is an option and to defuse the procedure a little bit. If awake temporal lobectomy is an appropriate but underused treatment against epilepsy and if an event like a live-tweeted operation can help open the eyes of patients and their relatives to the procedure, then I guess on could argue for a public health interest in the bringing social media all the way into the surgical theater. If this be the case, then I guess it would also be of interest to publicly funded hospitals to tweet or for patient organisations to advocate for this means of communication. According to my knowledge, this is yet to occur.

It would be interesting to hear other people’s thought on this issue. Whom benefits from live-tweeted surgeries? Can it be considered a means of science communication? Is there a public health component to them? The questions are many. Think my head will need to struggle with this one for a little bit longer.


1 in 40 scholars has an active Twitter account – I wonder how many Public Health scholars are using Twitter

How many of your colleagues are on Twitter? If you are a scholar it would be around 1 in 40 – that is at least the conclusion made by Jason Priem, an investigater of new measures of scholarly impact on the social Web from University of North Carolina.

Some of the conclusion from his research can be found on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. It is definitely worth a quick read.

In an attempt to assess the presence of scholars on Twitter, Jason Priem and colleagues made a list of around 9,000 scholars from five US and UK universities and searched for their names on the Twitter API. After manually confirming all the matches, they downloaded all the tweets each scholar had made and coded the content of these. It is based on this research that they conclude that about 1 ind 40 scholars are actively using Twitter. They also conclude that the adaptation of Twitter is broad-based. Thus, scholars from different fields and career stages are taking to Twitter at about the same rate. And that the scholars are not there just for private reasons, but are actively using Twitter as a scholarly medium, making announcements, linking to articles, even engaging in discussions about methods and literature. That said, they also conclude that most scholars’ tweets are personal, underscoring Twitter as a space of context collapse, where users manage multiple identities (see more on the Twitter poster below).

Even though Jason Priem conclude that scholars from different fields and career stages are taking to Twitter at about the same rate I can’t help but wonder if public health scholars also are represented on Twitter by 1 in 40. And how about when you go outside UK and US? In a Danish context it will surely be less – but I guess that means that there is even more room for improvement. Regardless, it would be interesting to do a similar study in a Scandinavian context.

Sweden have expanded the Twitter discussions on Health Care Social Media (#hcsm) family with #hcsmse

On the 11.11.11 from 12-13 (CET) a Swedish initiated pilot tweet chat will take off. It is part of the #hcsm discussions on Health Care and Social Media. #hcsmse is now a Swedish addition to the family – or at least a trial to see if there is interest in a discussion in Swedish on different aspects of health care and the health industry and the use of social media.

The first pilot tweet chat #hcsmse has been arranged by Physician and post doctoral fellow Pär Höglund from Jönköping Academy and PhD in biotechnology and journalist Ulla Rudsander from Stockholm Science City Foundation.

The topics to be discussed today are:

  1. What are the origins of patient participation?
  2. Why is 1177 (vårdguiden) not to be found on twitter?

The questions raised will as far as I understand be in Swedish, but comments in English are welcome too. Thus, this particular chat is of course primarily of interest to people from Sweden, but I do hope that Danes, Norwegians and Fins will participate too. It would be interesting with a Nordic perspective on the discussions. Especially the similarities in Nordic health care systems taken into consideration.

You can here read more about to follow the chat and bit more on the background (in English and in Swedish)

Follow and participate here: or #hcsmse

Best of luck to #hcsmse!

Quick follow-up on Twitter Surgery

To those of you who have been reading my posts about the Live-tweet brain surgery, which was performed at the Regional Epilepsy Center at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center (Aurora Health Care) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I myself have been wondering how the patient is doing and what experience came out of the whole Twitter event.

Peter Balistrieri, Manager of Digital Communications at Aurora Health Care have been so kind as to share some of the experiences on my previous post in the comments section and to those that haven’t read that far I thought I’d just link to 10 tips for tweeting a successful brain surgery. The tips are very hands-on and seem specifically directed towards others considering taking up live-tweeting from the surgery room. But there are some interesting aspects also for people outside the world of surgeries and hospitals. For example I find the recommendation of developing a relationship with the patient and doctors and surgeons prior to the Twitter surgery interesting. This is not only of benefits to the tweeters but also to the followers and gives a story-telling feeling to something otherwise very clinical and sterile.

That said I do miss a little bit of post-twitter-surgery-follow-up. Firstly, how is the patient, Geoffery, doing? We were all right there with him on the operation table, and curiosity bids me to wonder how he is doing today? And secondly, I am ver curious to know how the medical staff perceive the whole Twitter situation? Who followed the event and did it have the intended effect? What have the responses been? From patients, from colleagues, from patient organisations? Lots of question comes to mind and the only online follow-up that I have been able to find so far has so far been the before mentioned 10 lessons learned and an official announcement of a successful surgery with a short note that Geoff is doing well and that we’ll hear more from him 2+ weeks. I’m looking forward to that update. But also an update from the medical staff and perhaps for some reflections on the educational effect of the Twitter event, especially when putting on the ‘science communication’ perspective, which I would argue to some extend be relevant for an event like this one.

Great Twitter guide for university research, teaching and impact activities from LSE

Just a few months ago, I was as sceptical to Twitter as I experience that many of my friends and fellow public health colleagues are. But as might have become apparent from this blog, my opinion on Twitter has changed and I now gladly follow live-tweeted surgery, I have been tweeting at conferences and used posts on this blog to recommend other blogs providing tips for researchers on ways they can use Twitter.

I guess  one could argue that Twitter is a little bit overrepresented on this blog and it is even my impression that many of my readers already know much more about the topic than I do. Despite these two facts I just had to share this Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities which was just published by LSE – London School of Economics and Political Science.

The guide sets out to give an answer to this question, which I have met from soooo many of my friends:

“How can Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per tweet, have any relevance to universities and academia, where journal articles are 3,000 to 8,000 words long, and where books contain 80,000 words? Can anything of academic value ever be said in just 140 characters?”

I think, this guide gives a really nice attempt to answer the question. It is with its 11 pages really very approachable. With a short and very straight forward introduction to what Twitter is, it also provides a quick step-by-step guide on how to set up an account and then it goes into detail on how Twitter + universities can be a useful cocktail, eg. by:

  • Using Twitter to maximise the impact of your research project
  • Staying connected within University departments
  • Making the most of Twitter alongside your own blog
  • Using Twitter for teaching purposes

In addition, there are great tips on ways/styles for using those 140 characters that a tweet allows for. There is a terminology list and a list of recommended tweeters from the world of academics developed by followers of LSE Impact Blog.

The tone of the guide is nice and relaxed but still with a University jargon feel to it. The ‘relaxness’ shows for example in its caution advice on using Twitter:

“It is best not to tweet if you’re feeling ratty late at night and never when drunk either! If you do happen to tweet anything you regret, you can find the delete button if you run your mouse over the offending tweet.”

Perhaps this can be useful for me in trying to explain to friends and colleagues why the sceptical view on Twitter perhaps should be reconsidered a bit.