To most of the attendees I appeared to simply be a hard working photographer covering the conference. They were partially correct. I have been a professional photographer for the past 30 years and in meetings I was experienced at hitting the balance between being in the right spot to get the photo without creating a distraction. But a couple of my Twitter connections already knew that I was expanding beyond healthcare photography and was attending the conference to learn about the applications of social media in healthcare communication.
Before leaving for San Francisco, I discovered that two people in my Twitter community – Phil Baumann (@PhilBaumann) and Dr. Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V ) were attending and we made a plan to meet. They in turn were connected to others Dr. Michael Sevilla (@drmikesevilla – formally Dr. Anonymous), and Daphne Swancutt (@DaphneLeigh) personally and through Twitter.
Phil Bauman leads the active #RNChat.
The value of social media was apparent from the start – the online Twitter community selects their own connections and is interested in making personal connections with their contacts as well. This solved one of the challenges of being an individual island in a sea of strangers at conferences. I was now connected to a social group.
For people unfamiliar or just learning about social media, Twitter, with it’s own shorthand language can seem like an strange world, but since the users are often connected around a common topic and each person is their own editor of who to follow, there is a great interest in the opportunity to meet each other in person.
Another way to connect while at the meeting is to be a live Tweeter. Many meetings now have what is known as a “hashtag” – the number # character followed by a short identifier that is promoted at registration and during the meeting. As an example, #digpharm served as the hashtag of the June, Digital Pharma West meeting.
I was of course busy taking photos at the meeting so I couldn’t Tweet, but at other meetings that I was doing live reporting I soon discovered that other people in the room were using the same hashtag and we sought each other out to connect. The group of live Tweeters also extends the meeting out into a wider community as well.
Dr. Bryan Vartabedian taking a break from his Twitter stream.
Just as there was a group of real time reporters at the Digital Pharma West meeting it is increasingly possible follow the highlights of conferences that you wanted to attend by using Twitter. These could be big medical association scientific conferences like the American Heart Association meetings or more social media savvy gatherings like the recent South by Southwest health meeting.
You have the choice of following the Twitter stream either in real time on the Tweetchat website or review them afterwards on the Healthcare Hashtag website:
Tweetchat offers a way to follow and participate in active conversations. I first connected with my Twitter subgroup through the Health Communications Social Media chat that occurs on Sunday evenings. This active conversation is connected with the hashtag #hcsm. Following this chat gives you an idea of why the term Twitter stream is used. There is a river of conversation that happens in this hour with comments flowing as fast as 30 posts a minute.
If you can’t participate live there is the new Healthcare Hashtag resource created by the Fox Group. They have organized the hashtags together in one place and when you find an area of interest you can create a personalized archive of any meeting or chat that you may have attended or missed. They will soon be adding conference hashtags as well, until then you can look for the hashtag on the event registration page.
Dr. Michael Sevilla reveals his Dr. Anonymous identity.
These online connections can lead to the personal meetings which circles back to increased engagement online. I will more likely follow the social media posts of people that I know personally and promote them to my followers as well.
The next time you plan on attending a meeting, look for the hashtag or ask the organizer for one. Start following in advance and see if you can make some connections with a speaker or other attendees in advance. Once you are at the meeting look for the pod of people with an iPad or a laptop in front of them and ask if they are Tweeting the meeting. Introduce yourself and share you Twitter ID or ask them to give you an introduction to the world. Most will be happy to share – after all the technology may be scary, but the people are not. Unlike web-coders that may prefer code to people, the people involved with social media are interested in the social aspect of technology.
Another way to start on Twitter is to visit the Social Media University Global site created by Lee Aase, who is also the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media.