Why the Measles Truth Twitter Storm Worked


Yesterday the American Academy of Pediatrics hosted a novel twitter event around measles information.  Packaged as a ‘Twitter storm’ and tagged as #MeaslesTruth, it was a 10 minute measles power session designed to push a little vaccine truth into the infosphere.

Here’s why the #MeaslesTruth Twitter storm worked:

  1. It was a constrained affair.  As a short-form flash mob, it was clean, contained and to the point.  A twitter storm of this type appeals to our brief attention spans.
  2. There was no conversation.  This wasn’t a Q&A.  There were no silly platitudes.  It was anything but a cocktail party.  There was, however, heavy hitting, in-your-face volume.  It was a blitzkrieg.  A pro-vaccine bumrush.
  3. There were no individuals.  Our engagement was collective and centered around a simple idea. Everyone at #MeaslesTruth was present for group effect and it wasn’t about any one tweet.  No one participant had the opportunity to bask in the glow of their carefully chosen words.  It was social media intentionally designed without the me.

Congrats to my committed colleagues Rhea Boyd and Wendy Swanson for innovating a novel way to mass move ideas and information in a social space.  Hats off to all who pitched in.  And thanks to the American Academy of Pediatrics for helping us make Twitter stop and think for just a brief time.

You can check out the Symplur stats here | Image via Flickr

Social Health’s Sewer of Self-Interest

LikeThere’s an affirmation bias in public dialog.  We only like things.  Facebook, for example, only offers Like button.  To dislike is not PC.

Perhaps we can thank the marketers.  In social’s early history, we took our cues from marketing professionals who were the early adopters in the use of new media.  They’ve traditionally lead the conversation on conversation.  Marketers love to cheer.

Moving beyond cheerleading

But what marketers want and do may be entirely different from what healthcare professionals might and should do.  It’s not that we can’t promote, but maybe we have an equally important job that’s entirely foreign to the look and feel of our traditional dialog.

A couple of days back there was a story circulating on Twitter about a teddy bear that captures biometric information on cuddling children.  Predictably, everyone pushed the story along like a beach ball at a stadium event.  The future, it seemed, was just adorable.  Wendy Swanson spoke up and suggested that maybe there was more information needed before planting this in a child’s hospital bed.

We need to question things

Admittedly, it’s fun to share links about flying robotic bedpans that detect colon cancer.  But we desperately need to question things.  The social health infosphere is a sewer of self-interest.  And as the personal digital health heats up, someone will need to ask the tough questions and shape meaningful  dialog.

There aren’t enough physicians taking leadership in this role.  Of course it’s a tall order:

  • You must understand the tools and have some semblance of a voice.
  • You need the confidence and chutzpah to leverage that voice.

It’s a jungle out there.  Standing on your own two feet in an information stream that’s moving briskly in one direction can be tough.  We’re up agains powerful interests and well-connected microcelebrities.  And taking a public position opposite a peer takes a whole other level of confidence.

But for those looking to define themselves in a noisy world, defying our affirmation bias with a healthy element of skepticism is one way to not only stand out but create value.

Twitter’s New Paternalism

bubbles...2Twitter has changed its policies such that it is now putting tweets into your timeline based upon who you are connected to and what they feel is relevant.  The algorithms for relevance are a mystery, however.  The official explanation can be found at What is a Twitter timeline?

Daniel Graf, Twitter’s new product boss, put it this way:

Surfacing the kinds of great conversations that pop up in peoples’ timelines from time to time, making sure that for those users who follow hundreds of accounts, they don’t miss the very, very best pieces of those streams as they flow by, and then…for those users who are new to the platform and are coming to the platform for the first time, getting them value immediately.

I don’t care what Twitter feels is relevant. I’m capable of building in the necessary serendipity that I need for the human signal that works for me.

The fact that Twitter is going to impose its big greasy Silicon Valley fingers on my carefully polished lens represents, I fear, the beginning of the end.

Should Twitter be Regulated at Medical Meetings?

The organizer of a medical meeting in Milan recently made an appeal (tongue-in-cheek, it would appear) to attendees to avoid status updates and mindless backchannel banter.

The social side of any conference is important, and Twitter, being part of the social media, will naturally show that side. There is, however, a danger that the orchestra’s symphony will be drowned out by foot-shuffling, program brandishing, and a general clucking and chattering.

(Personally, I attend medical meetings with the specific intent to cluck and chatter)

All clucking aside, it raises an interesting question about how much organizers should meddle with meeting dialog.

3 thoughts

  • You can’t control the conversation.  And organizers should meddle as little with possible with attendee dialog.  It can be joined and facilitated, but not controlled.
  • It isn’t your conversation (or your hashtag).  Medical meetings exist to serve doctors, not organizers or the interests of society mucky mucks.  I might suggest that if the only thing attendees discuss is their lunch, the program needs an overhaul.
  • Twitter has lots of potential uses.  These uses range from curation and filtering to communication and ambient social monitoring.  Everyone uses Twitter differently.  Like the author, I dislike status/location updates.  But at a meeting they can be remarkably helpful.  And to suggest that a beautifully democratized social tool should be limited in some capacity based on the bias of someone in charge is concerning.

Medicine has done enough to create a stifling culture of permission.  We don’t need our meeting dialog subjected to legislation.

What say you?

h/t to the unflappable AnnMarie Cunningham, master curator for all things #meded, and the Milan organizer who made me think.  The post was slightly modified at 2pm CST to reflect the writer’s intentions.  

Mtg hashtag

When Machines Generate Embarrassing Tweets


This is why the auto-generation of social messages is a problem.  The machine that ‘pushed’ out the tweet didn’t see any problem with Governor Haley’s message.

If you don’t have the time to tweak your messages to your channels, either you need more time or fewer channels.  And I know.  I’ve been there.

Subtle standards of dialog, voice, tone, style, audience vary across platforms.  So should your message and its length

h/t to @stephlauren via Twitter.  These mishaps occur independent of political orientation.

How Twitter has Changed

Retro twitterOn a recent Stanford MedX Google Hangout I was asked how Twitter had changed since I began using it in 2008.

Initially it was relatively private and consisted of a patchwork of organic microconversations for those who chose to sign on.  It seemed to be more conversation than curation and sharing.  It felt edgy and raw in terms of subject matter.  The only people watching were the few who were participating.

Personally, I had few inhibitions with regard to what I shared.  I had never experienced public dialog in a near-synchronous way and the whole thing was fascinating.  It seems that I had to get my hands around it before I could understand what could be done with it.

At the time I had little understanding of social platforms as public arenas.  In fact, I had never considered the implications of participation.  I didn’t know there were any.  In fact, I didn’t think I was participating in anything.  Professionalism, permanence and the potential scale of off-colored remarks had never been raised as concerns since public dialog was something few physicians did.

Somewhere before 2010 everybody started looking and Twitter became public.   Then we started looking and acting like we were in public.  For me that’s when Twitter moved from a small, contained group of physician and patient friends to a publication tool.  We all diverged and began to use it in different and unique ways.

My personal evolution with Twitter has been just like my evolution with every other tool of public communication over the past eight years.  I start using it one way, then end up using it another way.

If you’ve been at it a little while, how have you seen Twitter change?

Image via the Moma agency.

Why I Don’t Like Scoopit Links on Twitter

imgresI’m seeing more Scoopit links in my Twitter stream and I’m not crazy about it.  Sure it’s quick and easy to share with Scoopit.  But it not quick and easy to consume.

For me it’s all about the economy of my workflow and attention.  Thinking I’m about to read something only to be forced somewhere else is cumulatively exhausting.

Ditto for those PR agency filter farms that scrape names, titles and a little bit about other people’s content so that they can hammer social feeds and drag you through their site to get to an interesting story.

I’m a huge fan of Scoopit.  Connect me to your curated collections.  But if it’s a story you want me to see, just show me to the story.

You can disagree with me ‘til the cows come home.  But remember that your audience is always right.

When Hospitals Engage by Megaphone

iStock_000017138912SmallLast fall while teaching at the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media Residency, I sat with an hospital admin who asked me about her facility’s twitter and Facebook feeds.  I told her it was a remarkable coincidence that everything created and shared was about her facility.  She suggested it was because so many remarkable achievements came from her hospital.

Surprising response?  Not really.  This strong sense of self is the rule rather than the exception.  And so organizations learn to engage by megaphone. Volume, it seems, is the greatest metric of success.  And as long as unidirectional output can be formatted as a graph on a Powerpoint slide, the beat goes on.

As it turns out, no one listens.  People care about themselves, not minimally invasive surgical centers.

Discouraging?  It should be empowering, actually.  The web is the great equalizer.  And it turns out that a hospital of any size is in a position to emerge as the biggest hospital in the public eye by creating material that allows health consumers to genuinely think and understand.  When your approach to content begins with consumer needs, only then do you stand a chance of patients seeing what you have to offer.

People care about themselves, not bariatric surgery centers.  And as long as you push lap bands with a megaphone, folks will cover their ears and vote with their feet.

Why I Schedule Some Tweets

iStock_000002838147SmallA few months ago I signed up for Buffer to experiment with scheduled posts.   Until that time, I had bought into the idea that scheduling a tweet was like sending a mannequin to a cocktail party.  As it turns out, I have found it to be a real help in reaching the people.

A couple of thoughts on why Buffer has worked for me.

I read and collect at odd hours.  Scheduling allows me to see to it that my links go out at times when those listening can benefit from some of the cool stuff I find.

I can pace my posts.   It’s not polite to hog the stream with hammer tweets (medical meetings and tweetchats as the unavoidable exceptions).  So this allows me to pace and work with the rhythm of my community.  And certain things work well on certain days and certain times.

I’m there all the time.  I spend a lot of time using Twitter but most of this time is spent listening.  I don’t share as much as others.  That’s because I think there are few things worth sharing.  What I’m saying is that I’m in the stream alot despite Buffer’s help.  And many things I find are still shared in real time.

Curation is different from conversation.  This is why the ‘mannequin at the cocktail party’ analogy doesn’t hold:  What I share is very different from the comments, pings, corny emoticon smiley faces/winks and RTs that make up a growing chunk of my activity.  Curation can be set to something of a rhythm, my connection and engagement with those around me…never.  Links are rarely dependent on context; conversation is context-dependent.

I can understand what works.  Buffer offers basic analytics on my activity which has helped me understand Twitter in ways that I could only imagine.  Bitly and Buffer are besties so the combination is killer.

I would recommend Buffer to anyone intent on using Twitter as a functional tool.  It’s clean, intuitive and powerful.  And it always works.

So let’s open up the microphones.  Is Buffer something you would use?

The Solution to Twitter’s Pseudoscience Problem

Twitter___ShoaClarke__Twitter_is_overflowing_with____Shoa Clarke, a young physician from Boston, recently lamented Twitter’s pseudoscience problem.  How, pray tell, can one compete in this cesspool of medical nonsense?

It’s easy in principle.  We compete with involvement.  Every one of us bears the responsibility to chime in when nonsense prevails.  The collective opinion of sensible practitioners has the capacity to trounce just about anything.  And there are many ways we can contribute.  If we can’t invididually create powerful stuff to dilute the nonsense, at least we can collect, curate and talk up the good stuff that’s being generated.  We can facilitate the conversation around those who are countering.

It’s harder in practice.  Getting doctors to collectively participate in public dialog is like herding cats.  Instead of involvement we see doctors huddling under their exam room tables.  Afraid of things that don’t exist, they sit and wait hoping that public dialog is just a fad.

So long as there’s huddling, the quacks will have the stage.

Take a ride in the way-back machine to 2009 when I first pondered this question of obligation to participate.

Why Nobody Follows Miss America

Twitter___chrisbrogan__Is_it_at_all_weird_that_a_former____Chris Brogan launched this question this morning.  It’s an interesting question that gets to the root of who we listen to and why.

While it does seem odd, I don’t know why this former Miss America lacks a proper Twitter audience.

Celebrities normally draw an audience because they’re celebrities.  Miley Cyrus, for example, doesn’t need to offer anything good.  She’s Miley Cyrus.  The rest of us bear the responsibility of creating some kind of value in order to draw an audience.  I suspect Miss Powell never reached the point where her celebrity status overshadowed the value of her curated offering.

Perhaps her following is a reflection of the times.  Unlike the early days of social dialog, people are paying attention to where they put their attention.

I certainly follow people who are nice.  But I have many meaningful relationships with folks that don’t involve my listening to their twitter feed.  More and more Twitter has evolved as a functional tool that involves tweaking and tuning to eliminate noise and get the human signal just right.

While I can’t speak for others, what Miss Powell offers isn’t up my alley.

And that’s why I don’t follow her.

If you liked this post might like this throwback from the 33 charts vault, To Unfollow is Human.  It seems I was thinking about human signal in 2009.