Top Twitter Myths & Tips

Common Myths & Tips 2 Get Started on Twitter 4 Docs & Future Docs

I get asked a lot(!) of questions about Twitter.   I also come across a lot of myths – so here are some common misconceptions and handy tips to help docs and future docs approach the fasting growing social media platform in the world.


It’s a young person’s thing In fact, the fastest growing demographic is 25 to 54 year olds. As recent tweets (and a New York Times article) describe, Facebook is for teens and Twitter is for adults.

No one is interested in what I had for breakfast While some millenials use Twitter to report the intimate details of their life to the “what are you doing?” prompt, this is not the norm.  Twitter is a way to educate, connect, learn, market, promote, advocate and engage with a community of people that you would not otherwise know (unlike Facebook which is usually reserved for “friends” or “friends of friends”).  There are also many health uses for Twitter.  Check out 140 uses for Twitter in healthcare by social media guru and nurse @PhilBaumann.

I don’t have time to tweet You don’t need a lot of time to type 140 characters.  It’s actually quite liberating since it’s not impolite to be brief.  You can integrate tweets into your day.  When reading interesting online articles, you can use the “share it” or twitter icon to immediately tweet the article with ease.  Even without a smartphone app, you can tweet from your phone via text.  Do not feel compelled to “read” all the tweets you missed or to tweet everything that comes to mind.  That could be very disabling.  Twitter is a big cocktail party that you are dropping in on from time to time to listen to what people are saying and join in.  Do set limits to the amount of time you will spend on it. Certain programs (Tweetdeck) make it easier to tweet and follow people.

I will not get anything out of it Like all things, you get what you put in. I am connected to a rich network of real people ranging from medical trainees, to media & business leaders all over the world.  Healthcare reform, social media, and the Iranian revolution are just a few of the areas I have used Twitter to learn about.  If you are following someone and they are following you, you can “Direct Message” them privately which is a nice resource.  By tailoring who you follow, you can decide what you will learn on Twitter.  Twitter lists are also very helpful way to follow groups of people.

No one will follow me Some people will definitely follow you if you follow them. People will also follow you if you start tweeting and “retweet” them – or repeat what they are saying.  You have to start somewhere.

People will think I’m weird The only people who will think that are not on Twitter – the Twitter crowd is very friendly to new “Tweeple”.  The key is to be social and start talking!


Get a Twitter Account You will not be able to understand what Twitter is without one.  Don’t worry so much about what you will do with it.  Your goal is to just get familiar with the website.

Select followers One easy way to get started is to use the Twitter directory WeFollow search for categories like medicine or other things you are interested in learning more about.  Select some people to follow so you can see what they are saying.  It’s usually good to start with 30 or so – you won’t really understand Twitter without selecting followers. (You can also list yourself in the index too or wait until later)

Lurk for a bit You may want to lie dormant or lurk before you start tweeting.  I actually lurked at @vinnymarora before starting a new account – @futuredocs.  As a lurker, your goal is to get more familiar with how tweets are posted, what a “retweet” is, and how messages are kept under 140 characters.

Decide what you want to tweet about Healthcare reform? Medical Education? A few of the topics you may be into.  After you’ve seen what’s out there, you will get ideas.   Ideally, you are tweeting about something you know quite a bit about (so it’s easy!) and is appealing to someone out there.  Once you decide, you may want to get familiar with the #hashtag –see below.

Decide what you don’t want to tweet about My general rule is not to tweet about anything that could get me in trouble with my employer or at home.  This includes not disclosing protected patient information (violating HIPAA) or protected student information (violates FERPA).   For medical trainees, remember Twitter is open to the public and indexed on Google unless you lock your account.  This means your future residency program director or employer could be considering your tweets in evaluating whether you are a suitable candidate.  In the words of @Doctor_V, “Remember what happens on twitter stays on twitter.”

  Check out his tips here.

Get a “twentor” – or a twitter mentor Mine is @anitasamarth, my former college roommate.  She helped me get started and overcome my fears.  Reaching outside of academia can be helpful.  You can also give back. Some people I have provided guidance and encouragement to: @md2b_advisor @drnundy @medrants @MotherInMed @nedalai. Your twentor can recommend who to follow and also help retweet your tweets.

Other Common FAQ after you join:

How do you shorten a link on Twitter? is a website that will shorten your links.  Tweetdeck and other twitter apps have embedded shorteners that make it easier.

What is a #? Hashtags are a way to index your tweets so that they are more easily found.  For example #healthreform #hcr tweets are about healthcare reform etc.  You can also search using the hashtag for other related tweets and select followers that are tweeting about what you want to hear about.  The hastags for Medical Education are #meded #medschool.

More on Twitter in Medicine…

Should doctors use Twitter? American Medical News

Twitter, a medical help, hindrance or hype? ACP Internist

Please note that a modified version of this article along with an essay by several residents on microblogging in medicine appeared in the November issue of the SGIM Forum. (go to page 4)



  1. Well done! An excellent run-down of Twitter myths and facts plus a few new user tips. Definite RT from us, and I’m sure you’ll get many more!

  2. Twitter has been a major help for me to connect with my blog audience and other physicians. I agree with everything you said, especially that you get out what you get in. Social media is about interacting, not just putting stuff out there.

  3. When Twitter first came on the scene, I would have agreed that it was a completely useless waste of time. Today, I don’t see how anyone could argue that. It’s a very valuable resource.

    It seems like you were a bit ahead of the pack on this subject! In 2010, I was still convinced it was worthless.

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