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How to Use Social Media as a Power Tool

By Anne Marie Mercurio

Social media is changing the medical landscape. Harnessed properly, it has the power to bring advocates, scientists, clinicians, innovators, and financiers to the same table. How does one define social media and, more importantly, how can we utilize social media platforms to build communities, share information, and rally around causes about which we are passionate? Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs are the social media tools I have found to be most effective in my efforts as both a patient and an advocate.

Find Your Voice

Maintaining a blog or reading and commenting on the blogs of others are ways to begin engaging and building a community. Using blog posts and/or comments as a springboard for relevant discussions is more powerful than one might imagine.

A blog is a great way to share the latest research findings, discuss clinical trials, encourage people to contact their congressional representatives if there is an issue of particular importance, and showcase organizations that are making a difference in their area of advocacy

Be True and Be You

Of utmost importance is building credibility as an advocate who can be trusted to provide accurate information. Share only what is carefully vetted from highly trusted sources. Verify the reliability of the information and include links to the source site when possible. If you are expressing your own opinion, make certain that it is clearly noted.

Sharing personal views humanizes you. Don’t be afraid to take a position and speak your mind. Take the time to word your message in ways that others may hear. Reply to comments whenever possible. Listen to what others are saying. Be respectful. Agree to disagree. Accept that there are many paths to successfully achieving our goals as advocates. There is strength in numbers

If You Write It, Will They Read?

Now that you’ve posted something to a blog, or found a blog that is a must-read, how do you get others to read and, most importantly, to share with their friends? One of the most powerful aspects of social media is the ability to spread a message. There are no barriers between your words and anyone, anywhere in the world.

In a public forum, your message has the ability to be read by people who would be otherwise inaccessible. As the director of the NIH is sending out messages on social media, he may stumble upon your messages. Properly worded thoughts shared in a public forum may come across they eyes of decision makers and act as a conduit to develop relationships that would not have been possible prior to the explosion of social media.

If You Read It, Will They Share?

There are several tools available that help amplify your message. Select the best tool for the job. Use as many avenues as possible to engage the widest audience. Although the focus of this article is on just three methods, there are other platforms and that list continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Facebook is a good place to post a note or a link to a blog or a news article. It allows for focused conversation on a specific topic in one place. It also enables sharing. It’s an ongoing conversation that can continue for however long the topic is relevant or still of interest. Readers turn to Facebook and may join a conversation at their convenience.

Twitter, in my opinion, is the single most effective tool to share a message with the greatest number of people. Each message, known as a tweet, is restricted to just 140 characters – and yes, even spaces count. It can be challenging, but it’s a great lesson in the effective use of language. The ability to send short bursts of information into cyberspace in real time is rapidly positioning Twitter as the go-to venue when news is breaking.

What’s Up With That Pound Sign?

In the social media world, this sign is called a hashtag. Using a hashtag (#) enables like-minded individuals to communicate. Seek tweets and posts that contain specific words to locate people or organizations to follow. Twitter and Facebook communities that include patients, doctors, hospitals, and organizations like the AACR are growing around disease-specific hashtags. These communities are supporting those in need, sharing information among a vast audience, and seeking the opinions of clinicians about newly released studies.

Conference hashtags are being used in record numbers. Attendees may tweet and post live updates from a presentation to disseminate information to a global audience in real time. Topics that are of particular interest may spark a lively conversation among a group of total strangers. Many of those engaged in the conversation are likely not even at the conference.

Join the Conversation

The open exchange of ideas found in various social media platforms is brainstorming at its very best. Used wisely, it is a highly effective networking opportunity that extends around the globe and into the offices of those previously not accessible to most of us. Find the platforms that work for you. And then, just jump in!