In part 1 of this Twitter series for clinical research professionals, I introduced the Twitter fundamentals. With that foundation in place, it’s time to discuss other important Twitter topics, concepts, and features that you will encounter on your Twitter journey.
By the end of this post, you should feel very comfortable with Twitter, but you may have some lingering questions. Please do not be shy about asking questions in the comments below.
Follow Clinical Research Tweeters
Now that you’ve taken the steps outlined in Part 1 and have a small collection of tweets under your belt, it’s time to start following clinical trials Twitter users. While social networks like Facebook exist primarily to facilitate existing relationships, Twitter is special in that its real strength is in facilitating new relationships. This unique quality can be a challenge for new users because building your network is more than a matter of locating people you already know offline.
Use 4 methods to find clinical trials users on Twitter.
- Start with following clinical research professionals or organizations that you already know or know of. To discover their usernames, visit their webpages, blogs, or social media pages and look for a Twitter badge or link. This badge or link will bring you to user Twitter pages, where you can start following.
- Now that you are following a small collection of clinical trials tweeters, take a look at who those users are following to see additional possibilities for new follows. Rinse and repeat this process. The more you enjoy a person’s tweets, the more likely you will be interested in the tweets of those they follow.
- Use Twitter lists to identify interesting Twitter people. Twitter has a feature that allows users to curate lists around a particular topic. Use a website like Listorious to locate lists relevant to your interests. Listorious allows you to do a keyword search on both people and Twitter lists. If you are interested in following fellow clinical research professionals, specifically, I also maintain several clinical research and healthcare-related lists.
- Pharma and Clinical Research Lists
- Clinical research associations, conferences, and education companies
- Clinical research professionals
- Clinical research sites and their employees
- Pharma news and information (with an emphasis on clinical research)
- CROs and their employees
- Pharmaceutical communications professionals (with emphasis on clinical research)
- Healthcare Lists
- Healthcare digital media information (with an emphasis on pharma)
- Health technology companies and professionals (with emphasis on clinical trials)
- New Orleans healthcare companies and professionals
- And last but not least, take a look at the “who to follow” tab in Twitter’s primary navigation bar. From this tab, you can view Twitter’s follow suggestions, browse by interest, or find your friends by allowing Twitter to connect with your address book. The Twitter suggestion tab will be more useful once you have already started following people of interest, since it uses your existing follows to predict new follows of potential interest.
With these 4 methods, you will be well on your way to building a Twitter clinical trials network.
As an aside, feel free to follow me at: @RebarInter. Also, please let me know if you think you should be listed in one of the Twitter lists I maintain.
Watch Your Speed
When you are first starting out on Twitter, I recommend that you start slowly with your follows. It’s not uncommon for spammers to have a very skewed follow/follower ratio, which is a pattern you want to avoid. For example, a spammer might follow hundreds of people but only have 2 followers.
Start with no more than 50 or so follows, continue tweeting, and give those people some time to follow you back. Once you have built a small presence, follow more people, once again limiting your follows to a reasonable number. Rinse and repeat. This iterative process also gives you time to adjust to using Twitter before you have a large audience.
Twitter users may not follow you back right away, but don’t let that discourage you. Social media, and Twitter in particular, is a marathon and not a sprint. Show up regularly, tweet items of value, and converse with other clinical research tweeters. Slowly you will notice progress, and maintaining your Twitter presence will get easier.
Key Features and Concepts for Clinical Trials Tweeting
As social networks go, Twitter’s feature set is pretty stripped down. In fact, some of Twitter’s most used “features,” including hashtags and retweets, were not created by Twitter developers but by Twitter users who saw a need for them. The following is a description of Twitter’s major features and concepts.
The At Sign (@)
Anytime you are talking to or about someone, place the @ symbol before their name. For example, if you were speaking to me on Twitter, you would use @RebarInter. By using the @ symbol in conjunction with a Twitter name, you ensure that the person you are speaking to or about is alerted to the mention.
Alternatively, if you are replying to someone, use the reply link under the tweet. Use of the reply link will automatically populate the tweet box with the appropriate username, and it allows the person you mention to see what tweet you are replying to.
View your mentions by going to the mentions tab in the secondary navigation.
Retweets and Attribution
Twitter manners dictate that use of another person’s tweet be given proper attribution. Initially, users would simply copy the tweet, and place the letters “RT” and the person’s username before the copied tweet. Eventually, Twitter incorporated this functionality into its platform, allowing users to simply press the retweet link in order to retweet. Some users prefer the old cut-and-paste method of retweeting, so they have continued to use it. Each method has its advantages, but you should use whatever method is most comfortable for you.
In instances where you are not tweeting another user verbatim but would still like to acknowledge where you heard about an item or idea, use “via” before the person’s username. Via is useful when you want to provide your own thoughts on something but still give credit to your original source. Though less widely used, “HT” (hat tip or heard through) is used in the same way.
Should you need to modify a tweet for length, use “MT” to indicate that the tweet is modified. If you modify a tweet, be sure that the modification does not change the meaning of the original tweet.
To view retweets that were created using Twitter’s internal retweet functionality, go to the retweet tab in the secondary navigation. All other attribution methods, including the “old” way of retweeting, will show up in your mentions.
Direct Messages (DMs)
Direct messages are simply private tweets between two parties. In order to direct message someone, that person must be following you. To see your direct messages, go to the messages tab in the main navigation.
Hashtags are another user-generated feature of Twitter, but they have since been integrated more into the Twitter platform. In a way, hashtags are the topic equivalent to the at symbol. While @ is used to indicate mention of a particular user, # is used to indicate mention of a particular topic.
The original purpose of hashtags was to make it easier to locate tweets about particular topics, and hashtags continue to be used in this manner. But hashtags have also undergone “mission creep,” to quote Susan Orlean in an excellent Atlantic article on the topic. That mission creep is beyond the scope of this post, but if you are interested in continued reading on the topic, check out Susan’s discussion of the semiology and phenomenology of hashtaggery.
Here are some examples of popular healthcare, pharma, and clinical trials hashtags:
- Clinical Trials – #clinicaltrials #clinicaltrial #clinicalresearch
- FDA – #fda
- FDA & Social Media – #fdasm
- Health IT – #HIT #healthIT
- Health IT and Social Media – #hitsm
- Healthcare & Social Media – #hcsm
- Healthcare & Social Media Europe – #hcsmeu
- Healthcare & Social Media Canada – #hcsmca
- Healthcare & Social Media Latin America – #hcsmla
- Healthcare, Social Media, & Vaccines – #hcsmvac
- Healthcare Marketing – #hcmktg
- Medical Devices – #meddevice #medicaldevice
- Mobile Health – #mhealth
- Pharma – #pharma
- Pharma & Social Media – #socpharm
You can continue discovering additional hashtags on your own. Several third party websites are useful for hashtag discovery, three of which I will highlight. To search for hashtag definitions, try tagdef. In addition, an exhaustive list of clinical trials, pharma, and other healthcare-related hashtags are available here. Finally, Hashtagify is a very neat new tool that allows you to explore the relationships between hashtags visually.
You might have heard the term “social media listening.” When people use this phrase, they are talking about using software that is basically a more sophisticated version of Twitter’s built-in search function. To do your own Twitter listening, simply type a topic or term into Twitter’s search box. Twitter also offers advanced search functionality, which allows you to further refine your search by geography, person, hasthtag, etc. Using search, you can hone in on Twitter conversations of interest.
In part 1 of this series, I discussed several ways that Twitter can be used in clinical research, including keeping up with what people are saying at or about conferences. If you would like to keep up with clinical trials conference tweets, find out the conference hashtag and do a Twitter search.
Similarly, you can keep up with a variety of healthcare-related topics by searching for the hashtags associated with that topic. For example, find clinical trials tweets by searching for #clinicaltrials.
A Word About Spam
In part 1 of this series, I mentioned that Twitter has a spam problem. It’s important that you understand how spammers operate so that you can avoid them and so that you do not unwittingly engage in spam-like behavior.
The word “spammer” often elicits imagery of a lawless individual who leverages his technical prowess to bombard Internet users with sketchy offers for iPads, Viagra, or whatever else will produce ill-gotten income. And this stereotype has some truth to it. However, average Internet users also (often unwittingly) engage in spammy behavior.
In fact, I’ve seen patient recruitment companies attempt to recruit patients by spamming Twitter users. This behavior does both patients and the clinical research industry a disservice.
So it is important to understand Twitter spam both in order to protect yourself and to ensure that you don’t cross into spam territory. Spam is served on Twitter in 3 primary ways:
- Mention Spam – By mentioning individual users by username, spammers draw attention to a tweet intended to promote something or scam an unsuspecting user.
- Direct Message Spam – DM spam is similar to mention spam, except that the message is sent privately via DM. Most commonly a bot is used by the spammer to send an “auto DM” to new followers.
- Hashtag Spam – Spammers often attempt to piggyback on the popularity of a hashtag, even when that hashtag is not the least bit relevant to their tweet.
The goal of spam is typically to promote something, and spammy tweets often include a link. Spammers have a variety of motivations. Some spammers are interested in phishing for passwords, while others are unsophisticated marketers with no understanding of Twitter as a medium. Do not assume that a Twitter user with many followers is legit. The system can be gamed, and followers can be bought.
Regardless of method or motivation, you should never click on unsolicited links from people you do not know. Should you receive a link (and you will), do your Twitter civic duty by reporting the offending tweeter for spam.
I hope clinical research professionals who are new to Twitter have found this post helpful, but I’m sure I’ve missed some things. So please ask questions in the comments below. And for those of you experienced with Twitter, what would you add or disagree with? Please share below.