Why would I want to use social media if I traveled all the way to attend a conference in person?
This might be a question you ask yourself and one that I found as a reason not to engage with social media at medical conferences for many years. However, after noticing a growing trend in the use of social media every year that I attended the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting, I finally gave in. I still didn’t have a clear answer to the question of why I was doing it other than that everyone else seemed to be. My bias against social media had been that I wanted to immerse myself in the science at the meeting and try to network as much as possible. I didn’t have time to spend using social media. What I found was that I was able to see more of the science and interact with others that were reacting to what was being presented. I was also able to expand my network to some people that I might never have met otherwise. I want to share my experience and also give some brief thoughts on how social media could be used even better.
What’s the best social media platform for using at medical conferences?
Many medical conferences, including ASH, have designed applications (i.e., apps) that give attendees the capability to post messages that other conference attendees using the app can see. This type of platform typically is limited by a couple of major factors. First, because you have to be signed into the app to use them, access is limited to conference attendees only, specifically those that download the app. Second, since more medical professionals are on social media already, a meeting-specific system only causes confusion or redundancy. Since I have only used Twitter for medical conferences thus far, I cannot give a comprehensive overview of all the possible social media platforms that could be used. However, in my experience Twitter has many benefits that make is useful for this purpose. It allows users to post images or pictures and enough text to help explain what is being displayed without being too long. Replies or additional posts by the original user allows for discussion “threads” in real time. The hashtag feature allows any users to “follow” meeting posts or sub-topics. One problem with the last item is that users have to remember to add the meeting hashtag to their post. Other popular social media platforms are also being used to disseminate meeting information such as Facebook and Instagram.
How could social media be better used at and around medical conferences?
One of the main goals of any medical conference is to disseminate knowledge. Social media can help amplify the conference experience to a wider audience and in many cases even a global audience. The healthcare profession in general was slow to embrace social media and medical conferences have only recently started to see widespread use. Currently, I find that a small group of experienced “super-users” are quite prolific on social media during medical conferences (and outside of them) with the majority of other users following along and “liking” posts in Twitter parlance. One of the fastest ways to disseminate information in Twitter is to “retweet” a message, which sends it out to all of that user’s followers. If more people were active, rather than passive on social media, the reach would become more expansive. Additionally, international engagement and networking would be improved if more people actively used social media to respond to questions or arrange meetings. One recent example that happened to me was that an organization advocating for a disease I discussed during a presentation saw my post about my presentation and contacted me through social media. I might never have made that connection because the contact from that organization wasn’t planning on attending my presentation but did see my post on social media.
What is the future of social media at medical conferences?
As a final thought, I want to make it clear that I am not saying social media is a panacea. There are of course negative things associated with social media such as intrusion by outsiders/troublemakers, distraction from true interpersonal interactions, and other concerns. However, this is going to be the future of medical conferences at least for the next decade. I choose to focus on the positive aspects such as increased ability to engage in conferences/sessions I can’t attend in person, a wider audience, and increased networking ability. The more we all engage in social media at and around medical conferences, the better we will all be served.
Justin Taylor, MD, is an attending physician on the Leukemia Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He is also a physician-scientist focused on understanding and targeting hematologic malignancies based on molecular characteristics.