Misunderstanding Social Media – “Twitter is nonsense and a 5 second ego boost”

I’m currently attending the AHIMA conference. It’s my first time here and I’ve been quite pleased with the vendors that I’ve had a chance to meet. It’s been a really great event for me from that end. I have gotten a lot of interesting ideas and content about where the EHR and healthcare IT industry is moving.

Outside of other meetings that I have, I dropped into a social media session that they were having today. While the presenter spoke about a rather broad definition of social media, I was really taken back when he made the following comment about Twitter (which I had to tweet):

You can imagine the reaction from those that are part of #HITsm. I followed up with this tweet which better clarifies my view of what was said:

What a disservice to AHIMA to basically scare them out of using social media as opposed to talking about the benefits and how to manage the risks.

UPDATE: I was just reading this headline again and I’m still a bit shocked that he used these words. The “5 Second ego boost” part was particularly interesting for me. Anyone that’s put themselves out there on Twitter realizes that Twitter does little for your ego. It’s much better at tearing down egos than boosting them up. At least in many cases. It’s like readers of a blog. They are sure to keep you honest.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • I understand social media reasonably well and both facebook and twitter, from a business perspective, are all about marketing.

    You can phrase it a lot of different ways – “sharing information”, “updating news”, “informing the media/public/industry”, “raising awareness”, “shaping an image”, “generating a buzz” – but it all boils down to attempting to generate interest in a product or development of some sort. In other words, marketing.

    Health care information is rarely well suited to condensed messages, and social media marketing is based on exactly that premise. twitter, in particular, is limited to only 140 characters at a time, and it is rare to see a deep discussion on Facebook. The marketable aspects of health care – the “Friendly faces, caring places” spots that abound on TV and radio spots (and twitter and Facebook) are designed not to treat disease, but to build demand for the treatment of what may or may not need attention.

    In the fee for service business environment of 3rd party payer medicine, marketing is important for large corporate interests to help maximize profits, or if only for the fact that their competitors engage in it. In the medical environment of making sometimes difficult decisions to seek or provide treatment, marketing is, at best, an annoying distraction which lends nothing of value and can in fact be detrimental to the decision process.

    If one agrees that health care should be sold in the same way that automobiles, breakfast cereal and TV shows are, then social media are important tools. If one agrees that health care is a costly, limited and highly personalized service that is best sought only when required, social media is pretty much worthless.

  • Al Davis, MD,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I find your comments about marketing of healthcare very interesting. There’s definitely no doubt that social media can be an amazing tool for marketing.

    However, it’s a large mistake to only see social media and Twitter as is mentioned in this post as only being about marketing. That’s just not the case. Unless of course, that’s the only way you use it. There are a lot of other uses for social media that aren’t marketing.

    My favorite use of social media is to connect with people. I’m amazed at how many amazing people I’ve met through or from Twitter. Some I’ve later taken the relationship offline after Twitter made the “intro” and others I still continue to connect with via social media. To me social media is about connecting people in amazing ways.

    Plus, your comments address social media in regards to its uses for marketing to consumers. In this session it was talking mostly to HIM staff (it was at AHIMA) and how they could use social media. So, the marketing side doesn’t apply the way you describe. However, HIM staff could benefit in a lot of ways from use of social media. Another example is by helping them to keep up on various HIM related trends.

    Social media goes well beyond only marketing.

  • John,
    I have to agree with you 100% regarding the usefulness of social media in general and Twitter in particular. I think to focus on Twitter as a “marketing” tool is to really miss the actual benefits from the service.

    I always describe Twitter as the place where all the smart people go to discuss what is truly important about really important topics.

    Sure. There is a lot of marketing and a great deal of nonsense on Twitter. But the savvy user can quickly distinguish noise from signal with a few simple tools.

    I have been most impressed with how I have used Twitter to connect with like minded (and non-like minded) individuals in the field of health care reform and how I have leveraged these relationships online into actual collaboration and projects ITRW (in the real world).

    I also use Twitter as my personal filter for news that is important to me. Increasingly, a perusal of my Twitter stream in the morning provides me with reading material and news updates which are much more useful than the WSJ or NYT.

    I would classify none of this as marketing.

  • I also agree social media is an important tool in healthcare marketing. But I think the most important aspect of that is its use for health education.

    Think of all the things you wish people better understood in regards to their own personal health… the importance of annual mammograms, why you need to get colonoscopies, how exercising and eating right helps keep your heart healthy, etc. And also think about all the misinformation out there online (the place where so many people look for health information). So, why not get people talking and learning about these preventative measures from the experts on a platform they’re engaging with anyway? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    And yes, it may be fee for service now but it won’t stay like that forever with healthcare reform and accountable care on the horizon. But regardless of that, shouldn’t we be taking every opportunity we can to educate people about their health?

  • Great examples Chukwuma I. Onyeije, M.D. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

    Julie Sur,
    I will say that the presenter that made this nonsense comment (like the double meaning) actually did do a decent job talking about some of the benefits of health education and possibly health outbreak information using social media. Definitely can have a great impact as you describe if used properly.

  • It’s unfortunate that Al’s comments, and perhaps the AHIMA 2011 speaker John tweeted about the convention, reflect the jaded view that results from those who encounter social media at its lowest common denominator. Indeed, both Al and the AHIMA speaker’s comments do more to denounce the practice and profession of marketing than the actual media through which messages are carried out into the marketplace.

    To wholly dismiss a now established means of communication, education, and connection hardly warrants comment. Society rarely dismisses disruptive technology as a result of abuse/misuse – if we did, then we would be without telephones, televisions, the internet, and nearly all subcategories of digital communications due to commercialization encountered while seeking information, education, connections, and even entertainment.

    To Al’s comment “If one agrees that health care is a costly, limited and highly personalized service that is best sought only when required, social media is pretty much worthless,” I wonder how he would prefer his patients to seek information about symptoms, evaluate diagnostic choices, research physician skill/quality, connect with fellow suffers, and consider personal health care usage? His comments seemingly discourage engaged, curious patients in favor of patients who mutely receive health care services from providers.

  • John – you are correct that I was referring only to the marketing aspect of Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps that’s because my email inbox and LinkedIn discussion groups are filled with comments on using them for exactly, and only, that purpose. I live the standard physician workaholic lifestyle, and after my 14 hour work days I rarely have time for social media. My non-hospital time is almost entirely dedicated to food, family, continuing education and sleep. I’m not antisocial, but I am relatively asocial by necessity, and I have not considered twitter as a means of meeting others – it seems it would be very inefficient. I recently shut down my Facebook account after an incident in which a patient would not respect my desire to not use it as an office extension. So anyway – I was only considering the marketing aspects.

    Dr. Onyeije – I may steal your idea of using twitter as a newsfeed. I only have 1 hour each morning to read the news, and I am frequently frustrated by having to peruse so much noise to find the signals I want. I’ll give it a shot. Thank you.

    Tricia – You are correct that I am essentially denouncing the practice of marketing – in medicine. Standard advertising (newspaper/radio/TV) for health care is not educational to any useful extent, nor are the counterparts on facebook and twitter. Those ads are solely intended to build demand for a corporate logo or a particular pharmaceutical, regardless of the medical necessity behind that demand. You are also correct that “society rarely dismisses disruptive technology as a result of abuse/misuse”, but that does not mean that I have to condone or endorse the abuse.

    Health care is rarely trivial, has lasting positive and negative consequences, and is best served by thoughtful, informed decision making on the part of both the clinician and the patient. My favorite patients are the ones who show up with informed, discerning questions, and I’m happy to spend as much time as needed to answer them. My least favorite patients are the ones who show up and pick a fight because they saw something on the internet (facebook or elsewhere) based on “he said, she said” anecdotes, or “infovert” pages that are scientifically worthless. You can call that arrogance, or you can recognize that I have too much to do (there’s too much demand!) to waste time arguing with (or educating) those who will not take the time to at least partly educate themselves.

    I would prefer my patients seek information about symptoms, diagnostic choices, etc. with the necessary depth to develop an understanding of the topics, and social media do not support that approach. Yes – I would simply (and reasonably) prefer that some patients mutely receive their health care services, if for nothing other than my own self-preservation.

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