Facebook and Twitter can be much more than just a way to connect with old friends.
The LinkedIn CME Group continues to grow and serve as achannel for discussions and interactions. However, the number of people who continue to join the group is disproportionately larger than the number of people who are active participants in discussions. There is still room for improvement, including more discussions, more participation in discussions, and perhaps conference coverage. I hope that the members of the group will make it a more valuable tool for the global CME community.
However, there are many other social networking sites in addition to LinkedIn being used in professional settings. At first glance, many of these sites appear to be for personal use only, but as you delve deeper, appropriate professional uses emerge. The two that have become most commonly used are Facebook and Twitter.
I must admit that I started using Facebook so that I could see pictures of the newborn child of my friends in Paris. Soon after joining, however, I was bombarded with invitations from people looking to reconnect. This part of Facebook has been incredibly good and fulfilling. As I explored more of what Facebook had to offer, especially in medicine, I found fan pages and groups that contained things of interest to the physicians who are also our CME learners. I didn't need to “friend” them, but I did want to use the platform to reach out to them. I sought out and joined groups set up by professional societies and associations.
As a group member, I am able to post questions and comments on their Facebook walls, and direct these queries to physicians, patients, and caregivers. If questions are asked appropriately, and in the right context, some great needs-assessment data can be obtained. I have incorporated this as a technique in nearly every needs assessment that I am conducting. The candor of people and their willingness to share their thoughts and information was not only astonishing, but refreshing. A lot more can come from using Facebook in the context of CME in the future.
The other very popular social networking site is Twitter, which I find to be interesting and challenging at the same time. Twitter is, essentially, microblogging, or getting your messages out in 140 characters or fewer. And folks, when you count characters, both punctuation marks and blank spaces count.
I have found that those who are expert at text messaging on their phones have been the quickest to adapt to the microblogging needs of Twitter. And the concept of Twitter is slightly different than that of Facebook. On Twitter, it's all about whom you follow and who follows you. You search out people with a common interest and/or profession and then you read their messages, or tweets. With very few exceptions, most people allow you to follow their tweets without permission. Some, for a variety of valid reasons, require that they grant you permission to follow them.
Twitter also can be used to promote/advertise CME activities. Connections to educational institutions, specialty societies, academic institutions, providers, and more can be made through the following/follower relationships. Live tweeting from CME activities provides those who are not able to attend with a real-time overview of presentations, and even more important, it can involve them in the session by allowing them to tweet questions for the. I have made several invaluable contacts through Twitter.
There are many things that existing social networking sites can contribute to the CME community. In future articles I will address methods for using social networking within CME activities. Stay tuned.
Lawrence Sherman, FACME, CCMEP, is senior vice president, Educational Strategy, with Prova Education, an affiliate of Omnia Education, Fort Washington, Pa. He is a frequent lecturer on topics related to the strategic development, dissemination, and evaluation of CME activities. Reach him at LS@provaeducation.com.