By Kelly Cawcutt, MD, MS, FACP, FIDSA
Social media is a powerful professional tool, but like any tool it requires appropriate understanding and skill to leverage its potential. Engaging in social media as a professional provides an opportunity to promote yourself as an expert, develop a greater diversity of relationships and advance your career.
Finding your voice amid a sea of posts can be a daunting task, however. You can optimize your use of social media with the help of these tips:
1. Determine your mission and vision for social media use.
Prior to engaging in social media, you should first determine why you want to engage. What is your purpose? What do you want to communicate? How do you plan to provide benefits to yourself and your audience for maximum return on the valuable investment of time? Taking time to determine your reasons for being on social media will help you determine which platform may be right for you.
2. Target your audience.
Once you understand your personal mission and vision for social media use, it will be easier to decide who your target audience is. Perhaps your goal is to share information with colleagues within your specialty or to attract multidisciplinary collaborators around a certain topic. On the other hand, you may want to provide educational materials to trainees or patients, or focus on public health outreach to certain age groups or patient populations. Understanding who you are speaking to helps you find your voice in that conversation.
3. Pick your platform carefully.
Once you understand your mission, vision and audience, choosing the best social media platform becomes easier. Which platforms are favored by the people in your target audience? How you like to communicate – with photos, videos, longform writing, short snippets of text – can also help to determine which platforms are best for you. Trying to engage on all platforms can be daunting, so start with one or two and then see where you find the best ROI for your efforts. Also, make sure you feel authentic in the platform, if you do not, your audience will notice!
4. Intentionally choose your handle, backgrounds and bio.
On social media, you make a first impression with your profile handle (name), bio and background photos. Consider these carefully and ensure that your bio reflects your expertise, mission and vision so people have an idea of who you are and what kind of posts you may share.
5. Recognize that social media is a permanent platform.
Digital platforms may seem fleeting, but they create a permanent record. Consider what you post – both in text and images – carefully. If you would not share the ideas or pictures on a professional stage in real life, think twice before posting them.
6. Engage in social listening.
Social listening is a way to understand the conversations that are pertinent to your audience. Check out the hashtags being used by the people you want to reach, scroll through their posts. Understanding what your intended audience is talking about may help you refine how you enter and engage in the conversation – or it may open a door to start a new conversation!
7. Connect and collaborate with others.
Use social media to connect and expand your network! This is an amazing opportunity to develop collaborations and engage in discussions with other experts in your field. It is also an opportunity to identify and develop mentorship and sponsorship relationships, which can be critically important if you lack mentors, sponsors or colleagues who share your interests within your organization or immediate geographic area. An easy way to get started is to follow the hashtag of a medical conference, a society or even a journal sharing content that is of interest to you. Public relations teams may also become a great ally and reach out to you for expert content, once they are aware you are on a given platform.
8. Take relationships from the virtual world to the real world.
Connections made online are further empowered in person. When you have the chance to attend a conference or when you are traveling, seek out those you know and meet up for a #TweetUp, a coffee or a social hour. Remember, you already know each other so the hard part is over!
9. Don’t feed the trolls.
There will be naysayers, the possibility of attacks and argumentative comments or posts. Report those that are offensive and inappropriate, but do not engage in arguments online. Do not feed those “trolling” and trying to bait you into a fight. It won’t be productive and may generate significant negative attention. If you need to disengage for a few days from the platform to let these moment pass, that is perfectly all right. You do not need to respond to every person, troll, bot or comment.
10. Know your organizational social media policies.
Social media can be a powerful tool. When used for professional purposes, however, it is imperative that you understand and follow organizational policies for its use. Professional criteria still apply, and it is far better to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to following the rules.
11. Curate content in your voice.
As you write, share posts and curate the content on your chosen platform(s), make sure you continue to use your own voice. Re-write a comment, add your own thoughts, bring your genius to the discussion.
12. Be authentic.
You bring unique perspective, ideas and expertise to any social media platform. Do not try to be someone you are not. Embrace your strengths, your passions, your mission and your vision, and share them on your platform. Sharing a bit of who you are as a person is not only acceptable, it is also encouraged.
Kelly Cawcutt, MD, MS, FACP, FIDSA
An Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and board certified in Critical Care Medicine and Infectious Diseases. She is the Medical Director of Medical Quality and an Associate Director of Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology for Nebraska Medicine. She is also Co-Director of Digital Innovation and Social Media Strategy for the Infectious Diseases Division of UNMC. Nationally, she is involved with the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). Dr. Cawcutt’s research interests include infections in the intensive care unit, with focuses on vascular access, CLABSI and VAE/VAP, COVID-19, faculty development with specific interest in advancing the careers of women, and the use of social media in medicine.
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