One of the best ways to begin to shape your digital identity is to follow the lead of others like you. You need a digital mentor.
Digital citizenship for physicians is knowing how to be a professional sport while out and about in the ether. Medical societies and organizations are desperate to make rules, regulations, and guidelines that they believe will help us all be good citizens of the digital age. I believe, instead, that the standards of digital citizenship are being defined in real-time by those leaders who are active on social networks.
The standards of physician conduct are a little different online than they are in the traditional medical meat space (hospitals, clinics, and medical schools). So you need to see how it’s done. You’ve got to lurk and watch.
I always recommend that, before ever stepping foot in public, doctors find someone doing just what they want to do. This is one of the most important ways to figure out where you fit in and how you can differentiate yourself. The best way to learn how to be a public doctor is to watch great public doctors.
What is a digital mentor?
A digital mentor is someone who you can look to as a role model. You may never talk to them directly (or you might, see below) but by watching how they do what they do, you can understand how to navigate life online. While policies and guidelines may serve as guardrails, your digital mentor(s) will offer up the practical example of how its done.
Tips for finding a digital mentor
Look for someone doing what you want to do. This may be a physician author or a pediatrician who practices alternative and complementary medicine. Or whatever. Find the people who are already public physicians in your domain. These may be you’re digital mentors. You don’t need to ask their permission, just follow what they do out in the great wide open spaces of the virtual world.
If you’re an OB/GYN looking to build a Facebook presence for your practice, identify a handful of practices that do just that. Follow them, study them, and see what makes them successful and engaging. Find out what draws people in, and what gets patients talking and, most importantly, coming back. Look at how they shape their public profiles and images.
While it’s hard to measure success from the outside, public comments, Likes, Twitter dialogue and other kinds of social sharing can serve as a rough way to measure interest and vitality.
Conversely, find your mentor and study their digital presence. Alternatively, find 2-3 high profile physician authors (if that’s your thing) and see where they hang. Look for their website and typically there will be bread crumbs that will take you to their social media outposts.
No one can tell you who to watch. So often I hear, ‘show me where the mentors are.’ Or, ‘tell me who to follow.’ ‘Give me a list,’ they ask. I can’t do that because I don’t know your purpose and mission. Mandated follow lists are absurd because I can’t tell you who will bring you value or what you’re about. The truth is that some of this will require that you roll your sleeves up and dig a little bit.
Find the power hitters at your favorite medical meeting. Every medical meeting has what’s called the ‘backchannel conversation.’ That’s the chatter that happens on Twitter during a meeting. Every meeting has an official hashtag and that’s what defines the backchannel. Look there to see who’s active. Look at who’s sharing stuff that you find really valuable. Look to see who the others think is important. Consider these folks your digital mentors.
Reach out and talk to someone. This may sound really weird, but you may want to actually talk to someone in person. If you are lucky enough to know a Twitter kingpin in your space, ask to pick their brain. Tell them where you’re at and what you want to do. Ask them what they did. Folks with clout like to share their hard won wisdom.
Look for those who have mastered the medium. When you watch and listen to doctors talking, creating, curating, and commenting, you’ll find that there those who maintain their presence with remarkable balance and equanimity. They talk to the point of being human but never to the point of being inhumane. They’re open enough that they’re different. They share to a degree that doesn’t represent over-involvement. They’re transparent to the point where we can see that they’re like us but never to the point of offense. Their voices are beautiful and defined. They’ve found themselves and their digital presence.
This is the public physician zen state.
Look for colleagues who have perfected what I like to call the balance of volume and value. Finding this equilibrium is one of the challenges we face individually and as a profession.
This page is part of a bigger project: The Public Physician, a field guide for life online. To read more check out the Public Physician landing page. Happy reading!