I have had a few conversations in recent weeks with friends, peers, and colleagues who understand the social media hypothesis I posited in a previous column—that social media can support 1) our education of healthcare providers, 2) our own lifelong learning, and 3) our advocacy for the CME profession. Now they are considering dabbling in social media professionally, and they are looking for advice.

I’ve described social media to them as:

  • digital channels for sharing user-generated content,
  • simply an enhanced means of communication, and
  • global channels that allow “word of mouth” to go viral.

While these sound bites may be somewhat useful, my recent conversations made it clear that they don’t provide much practical information. I had to dig a little deeper to find some practical advice that actually will help people dip their toes confidently into the social media ocean.

So, What Works?
1. Understand that social media really isn’t a huge, daunting ocean. Think of it more as a pond or swimming hole—and one that you’ve likely swum in already, perhaps without even knowing it.

  • Have you ever posted educational content online or moderated a virtual forum? This is social media.
  • Have you responded to an e-mail from the Alliance for CME listserv (or other listservs)? This is social media.
  • Have you ever simply read through the comments within LinkedIn user groups? This is social media.

2. Understand that you can participate in social media at a pace and level that is comfortable to you—you do not necessarily have to dive into the deep end. Conventional wisdom suggests that in any participatory framework, participation follows the 1-9-90 rule where 1 percent of users are leaders and prime contributors; 9 percent of users contribute occasionally; and 90 percent of users are lurkers. (See this site for more information.) The same holds true for participation in social media: It’s OK to lurk, if that’s what’s comfortable; and occasional participation is still participation.
The main points to understand are that many activities that we commonly participate in actually are social media channels, and that “participation” can be defined in a number of ways.

Take the Social Media Challenge
In the next 30 days, take these two steps:

1. Make one foray into a new social media channel—and it doesn’t have to be a blog or Facebook or Twitter. If social media channels are entirely foreign to you, find a listserv or some other way to participate that uses a familiar format.

2. Make one attempt to move up to the next level on the participation pyramid. For example, if you already read messages posted to a LinkedIn user group, try posting a question.

To be certain, we are a long way from having definitive data on how great the impact of social media will be on the CME profession, but I encourage you to take one small but actionable step a month to draw your own conclusions about the professional value of social media.

Brian S. McGowan, PhD, has dedicated the past 12 years to medical education as a faculty member, mentor, accredited provider, and commercial supporter. The opinions expressed are McGowan’s and do not represent the views of his employer, Pfizer Inc. Contact him via Twitter: @cmeadvocate.

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