Social Media for the Plastic Surgery Resident and How to Get Started

by M. Shuja Shafqat, MD

Social media has exploded in popularity in the last decade, with millions of people regularly using one or more services on a daily basis. Most of us use these websites or apps for recreational purposes. Increasingly businesses, personalities, and doctors have been using them for advertising. Specifically the focus has been on building a brand, defined as “the total sum of all thoughts or feelings about a person or thing at any given time.” (1) Whatever platform you use, we have all been overwhelmed with posts that are essentially advertisements for a company, product, or service. For us in plastic surgery, the best example of this is for the private practice plastic surgeon. In order to promote their business and drive traffic to their office, social media has been and will continue to be an extremely powerful tool.

However, a majority of residents are at academic institutions and do not have practices to promote. Therefore, starting an endeavor in social media in an academic setting can seem like a daunting task. It can be difficult to know what to say, how to interact, or whether people will even pay attention. I have used Facebook since the week it came out at my college, which to my detriment was in the 2 weeks before my MCAT. Since then I have used Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat mostly socially. In the last year, I started to use Twitter professionally and it was certainly difficult in the beginning, but slowly has become more effortless. My goal is to show you how to start and give you tips to begin interacting with the plastic surgery community.

Why is Social Media Important as a Resident

Certainly we are more than overwhelmed with rounding, operating, reading, research, and that is just at work! Many of us are married or have a significant other, children, or hobbies that we want to spend what little free time we have on. However, social media can be a powerful tool for education, promotion, and idea sharing. For those of us who have published papers, it is a great way to promote your research, increase its “impact factor”, which is how many times the paper has been cited in a year, and its metrics. Each article on PRS shows the Altmetrics and has a link to a page describing how many tweets the paper was mentioned in, who tweeted it, and where they tweeted from. This is a powerful tool to look at the influence your paper is having. In addition, since social media is a two way conversation, you can get comments and questions from other plastic surgeons, certainly giving a whole new flavor to writing papers.

In addition, it provides a forum to learn about new things and interact with experts in the world of academic plastic surgery. No other forum gives you the opportunity to interact with plastic surgery leaders on a daily basis. Also, it is a way to get your name out there. Many more people, both residents and attending plastic surgeons, know who I am as a result of being active on Twitter.

How Do I Get Started

The service most used by academic plastic surgeons is Twitter. Twitter limits your posts to short 140 character messages that can be spruced up with photos or videos. Certainly Facebook and Instagram have their place, but I personally find that Twitter is the most conducive to what we would all want to discuss and share. Facebook is certainly universally popular. Instagram is very visually based, which is good for product display, but difficult to build a sharing community within it and is more one way. Twitter is much more interactive but can be difficult to manage and can be confusing for those without experience. However many of the new developments we have become familiar with on Facebook and many of the features on Instagram originate from Twitter. Things such as “@” to mention a person or “#” to link a term in a post were originally developed on Twitter.

To open your “Twitter-verse”, you have to begin by creating a “handle” or a username. It should be something easy to remember but should also include your name. For example, my handle is @shujashafqatmd. Other options would have been @drshafqat or @docshuja. This allows others to mention you in Tweets. These handles also allow you to mention others. Simply by typing “@” and starting to type the handle, a list will auto populate. If you follow me and type “@sh”, my username will come up along with a list of all the other people that you follow whose handles start the same way, just like Facebook or Instagram.

The next step is to start following people or accounts. They could be people of influence who are well known in the academic plastic surgery world, have a lot of followers, tweet frequently, or tweet interesting things. In addition, they could be accounts associated with large academic institutions, journals, or other organizations. Here is a short list of accounts that I check regularly (certainly there are tons of great accounts, but this is a basic list to get you started):

Organizations:

PRS/PRS Global Open – @PRSJournal

ASPS – @ASPS_News

ASPS Members – @ASPSMembers

Plastic Surgery Education Network – @PSENetworkorg

Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery – @JRM_JRMOpen

People:

Dr. Olivier Branford – @OlivierBranford

Dr. Paco Canales – @drpacocanales

Dr. Minas Chrysopoulo – @mchrysopoulo

Dr. David Furnas – @DavidFurnasMD

Dr. Heather Furnas – @drheatherfurnas

Dr. Karen Horton – @drkarenhorton

Dr. Samuel Lin – @Dr_SamuelLin

Dr. Daniel Liu – @danielzliu

Dr. Rod Rohrich – @DrRodRohrich

Dr. David Song – @drdavidsong

Your Twitter feed will begin to show you everything the people you follow are tweeting. To make this easier, you can create lists of people to focus on specific categories. For example, I have a list of people I follow who tweet regarding 3D printing.

After this, the best way to start is to be an “active listener” (1) and see what other people are talking/tweeting about. Look for certain hashtags that people are using. The “#” symbol, or hashtag, is another Twitter innovation that has made its way to Facebook and Instagram. It allows users to tag a post or tweet so that a user may click on a hashtagged term and see all the tweets mentioning that term. One example, during the annual ASPS meeting in Boston this past year, users tagged their tweets regarding the meeting with “#PSTM15”. Another example is for PRS Journal Club (Listen to the Podcasts here), where all tweets include “#PRSJournalClub”. Think of it like you are placing your tweet in a particular bowl where all the other tweets relating to that topic are. Anyone can then dump the bowl out and look at all the tweets regarding the hashtag. This is probably the most useful tool of Twitter. This is how a community is created and is one of the reasons why the hashtag has become so popular. “#PlasticSurgery” is one of the more common ones used in academic plastic surgery.

Image1_SongFrom Humphries LS, Curl B, Song DH. #SocialMedia for the Academic Plastic Surgeon – Elevating the Brand

There are three options along the bottom of every tweet, and 4 on the iPhone app. The left pointing arrow allows you to reply to a tweet. This will create a tweet with that persons username, then you may type a reply. The next two are the two arrow symbol, and the heart. When you see tweets that you like, it is helpful to click the heart to like it and to click the two arrows to retweet it. By retweeting a post, it will essentially be reposted or shared by you. There are two specific types of retweets. A regular retweet, which puts the tweet as is on your profile, or a quote tweet, which allows you to repost it but with a comment from you. This is a way to clarify, add an opinion, ask a question, or reply to a tweet. The iPhone app has a fourth option, which is an envelope to private message the user.

Image2_PRS1

Once you feel comfortable with these tasks, you can then start tweeting your own content. This is the most challenging part since sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what to say. Start with an interesting article you’ve read, for example something from the latest edition of PRS. It can be as simple as the title. You can then add a link to the article. Because of the character limit, there is a useful website called bit.ly (http://bitly.com) which is a “URL shortener and link management platform”. You can directly paste the link and get a shortened URL that you can put in your tweet. Adding a picture is helpful as tweets with pictures get twice as many clicks as those without. It also allows you to tag multiple people in the picture and it takes up less room out of your 140 characters. You can then add hashtags (usually not more than 3) to link it to certain topics. This format tends to get many impressions, which is the number of times people have seen your tweet.

For example, on my last interview, I was reading the latest PRS edition and found an article about breast reconstruction and seromas. I thought it was an excellent article. I typed a couple words, pasted the shortened link to the article, added “#plasticsurgery” and “#breastreconstruction”, added a picture from the article, and tagged users who I know are interested in breast reconstruction outcomes and also some of the bigger organizations and academic plastic surgeons. As of the time I am typing this, this tweet got 4715 impressions and 184 engagements including 28 likes, 24 retweets, and 17 profile clicks in 2 and a half days.

Image3_Shuja1

Another great way to get started is to join in PRS Journal Club. Every month, the PRS Resident Ambassadors, Raj Sawh-Martinez (@docfsm), Amanda Silva (@AmandaKSilvaMD), and Sammy Sinno (@sammysinnoMD), choose 3 PRS articles to be PRS Journal Club articles, one of which is chosen for a 2 day Twitter discussion (find the June #PRSJournalClub selections here and don’t miss the live 2 day twitter discussion on June 5th & 6th). Twitter users can tag their tweets with “#PRSJournalClub” and the authors will respond to questions.

These are the very most basic tips and tricks I have learned about Twitter for plastic surgery in the past year. Included are some excellent references. If you have any questions you can always e-mail me (shuja.shafqat@gmail.com) or tweet at me! @shujashafqatmd

References:

  1. Humphries LS, Curl B, Song DH. #SocialMedia for the Academic Plastic Surgeon – Elevating the Brand. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016; 4:e599

Other Resources:

Twitter for Plastic Surgeons – PRS Tech Talk with Olivier Branford: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OF74NOz3Ux0

Twitter for Plastic Surgeons who are Too Busy to Tweet by Olivier Branford and Patrick Mallucci https://prsonallyspeaking.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/twitter-for-plastic-surgeons-who-are-too-busy-to-tweet/

Twitter Basics for Plastic Surgeons, with Heather Furnas, MD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeYWMgdjEoE

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