April 28, 2015

#pediatrics: How Social Media is Becoming Integrated into the Pediatric Conference Experience

Megan A Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
University of Washington
National pediatric conferences are a common way for clinicians to learn what is new in the research and clinical worlds, connect with colleagues and immerse themselves in a learning environment.  Over the past ten years, media and technology have slowly grown within national conferences as a topic of research, a new clinical tool, and a part of the meeting experience itself.  With the rise of social media, these novel tools are also being integrated into the conference experience. Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can enhance one’s conference experience, or it can serve as a distraction to oneself or others. Here are a few ways in which I’ve seen them intertwine within the pediatric meetings I have attended the past few years, for better and for worse.
For better:
Meeting through tweeting: It is common practice now to use Twitter during conferences.  Active Twitter users may interact digitally throughout an entire meeting even if they haven’t met in person before.  At a conference I attended this fall, I saw attendees seeking out fellow Twitter users using their profile picture so that they could introduce themselves with comments such as: “I’ve been following your tweets the whole meeting, it is great to meet you!” This bridging of online-to-offline social circles allows you to expand your social network during meetings in new ways, and gives you easy ways to keep in touch after the meeting.
Presentation feedback: For presenters at national meetings, it can be challenging to get feedback.  Twitter provides a new way to get feedback by reviewing the conference Twitter feed that was active during your presentation.  Twitter users will be highly engaged during a good presentation, and will retweet quotes or data they find particularly useful.  This  allows the presenter to see what points really hit home in the presentation.
For worse:
#wififail: At a recent meeting I attended, the conference heavily promoted the use of social media and provided a unique hashtag, but then did not provide wifi in the conference center.  Conference organizers and venue providers should pay heightened attention to the availability of wifi. 
#presenterfail: At a national conference, I attended a 3 person panel presentation about social media and how it is changing youth engagement and social norms.  One message of the presentation was that adolescents are too distracted by social media. All panel members sat on stage facing the audience throughout the presentation, and (somewhat ironically) one of the panel presenters was using his mobile device while the others were presenting. This gave the audience the feeling that the presenter was uninterested in what the other panelists were saying. It’s unclear whether the presenter was tweeting, checking email, or just playing Angry Birds.  Even in our age of digital immersion, there are times when it is not appropriate to tweet.
It is likely that the role and frequency of social media use during conferences will

 continue to grow in coming years.  Thus, pediatric conferences have opportunities to

consider how they want to integrate it into the experience and help shape the etiquette of

social media use during conferences.  One unique contribution conference organizers

could consider is to provide sessions to educate pediatricians about using these tools

during the conference experience. Conferences may consider having a hands-on session

early in the meeting where social media newbies could stop by and learn how to set up a

Twitter account so they can start using it right away. Woven into these sessions could be

 discussions about the etiquette of social media. This hands-on training could lower the

barriers to joining the online conversation, and may be a valuable training opportunities

for busy pediatricians who otherwise wouldn’t take the time to learn how to use these

 tools.  As the social media presence at our national meetings grows, we should consider

 innovative possibilities to ensure pediatricians are joining the conversation.