At a recent Ion World event right before this year’s ASHG meeting in Boston, Dr. Eric Topol gave a keynote talk entitled “Breakthroughs in Sequencing and the Future of Health Care”. He began his talk by asking for a show of hands in the audience present (over 300), “How many of you are on Twitter?” Of all the remarkable things he said during that talk (and it hopefully will be posted on YouTube soon – I’ll be sure to update this post when it does), that certainly was one of them. He then went on to demonstrate a unique perspective from both a genomic scientist and a practicing cardiologist who is staying very up-to-date using all the tools at his disposal, and Twitter is one of them, which is why he made the comment in the first place.
Have you had several failed attempts at starting a Twitter account and then gave up due to the flood of unwanted junk? Or just got confused and dismissed it as a fad? I had these experiences and played with it off and on since 2010. But in March of 2012 something changed in my thinking, and it was coming across the idea of starting up a Twitter account around scientific topics / topics around genomics / marketing life science products / selling life science products. And the nature of Twitter immediately posed several problems – one was how I could have a distinct identity only 140 characters at a time, and the other was the distinction between what is personal and private, and what is public and professional.
So another idea I had ten years ago, to start up a blog, was resurrected. The same issues that blocked me from starting one ten years ago (tension between personal and professional) was forefront again in my thinking, and I then went to work to figure out more about social media in 2012.
I came across several things. One important item was the distinction between personal and private. Here’s a recent post from Mashable that nails it – see point number 4 from that post. (If you are not familiar with Mashable, they were an early leader in blogging about social media in general, and still exert a lot of influence in the social media world.) So I can be myself, and keep it personal (full of personality), yet the private material stays private. The next item I had to decide early on was what kind of goal would I have for both the Twitter and blog combination, and that was to expand my own ‘personal brand reach’.
Like it or not, everyone has a personal brand, and to market that brand effectively may only come once every 3 or 5 or 10 years when looking for a new employer (or perhaps even sooner). I understand the desire to be anonymous, and most people prefer to stay that way, but don’t you want your prospective hiring manager to be impressed with your depth of expertise, your engaging and friendly demeanor, as well as your work and educational history, even before they meet you? Wouldn’t you want them to have a great reason to put your resume or CV to the top of the pile and say ‘I really need to meet this person’? (And for those not familiar with the personal branding concept and how important it is for the rest of your working career, here’s a nice piece from Forbes that calls personal branding “a leadership exercise”, which is what it is.) If you don’t have a personal domain name, with your CV on it and some projects you are working on, I’ll leave it up to you to think about that.
Getting back to the topic of Twitter, it is a part of this personal branding exercise. I was concerned years ago about Twitter’s financial viability, and why go through all that effort only to have that service disappear like Digg or MySpace (not that I invested any time in those things). And then I learned that if Twitter somehow became eclipsed by something else, you can simply point your followers to the next new something else and engage those same individuals on the new platform. Framed in this larger picture of personal branding, you cannot afford to not have at least a LinkedIn profile, and also a Twitter account.
So I made up my mind, setup a blog and the ability to send out a tweet anytime I posted anything new, and enabled other features (SEO optimization, Google Analytics, and so on) to make it easy to find. Was even able to connect a live Twitter feed as a plug-in, which you can see on the right-hand panel what I’ve been tweeting about in the last hour or so.
Regarding Twitter it is hard to get past that first few weeks of not knowing exactly how it works. But if you’ve been following me for any length of time @DaleYuzuki on Twitter, you’ll realize that aside from conferences and talks that I ‘live-tweet’ from, the vast majority (>90% probably) is a RT (“ReTweet”) of an item in my feed. And it has condensed bit.ly or t.co or ow.ly or sometimes yuz.li shortened URLs, to save space, and links to some very interesting material that’s delivered right to you.
Who to follow? Well you can look at my profile at http://www.twitter.com/DaleYuzuki and take a look at my followers, and see if anyone there interests you. Or take a look at Eric Topol’s profile and do the same. If anyone tweets something that’s not your taste, simply unfollow them. And use the search engine that Twitter provides, along with the use of hashtags (the #sign used in front of terms to make them easily found). Here’s a nice post that the Mayo Clinic put together on ‘getting started with Twitter’.
And for those not knowing what to say, then just simply re-tweet what is interesting to you. You won’t have any followers at first, but as you follow others they will occasionally ‘follow-back’, and you can’t do anything else but try to solicit friends and others you know to follow you who are also on Twitter. (But don’t be surprised if you find out that IRL (in real life) that the percentage is pitifully small.) Once you have say 40 or 60 people to follow, your list of followers will start to come along; it is these followers that will find what your interests are, what your personal brand is.
How often to tweet? I use a desktop client that spaces out my Tweets to about once per hour; it used to be 4 per day, then it went to 6, then 8. Now I don’t know how many hours it is, but it starts at 4am ET and stops at 9pm ET so that’s something like 17 hours per day.
Why schedule tweets? Because only a small fraction of your followers will ever see your tweet. I’ve seen studies that it is on the order of 6%, and you can subscribe to a service that will estimate what it is for your followers. So if you tweet 10 great things over the course of 30 minutes, only the followers monitoring their feed (including your tweets) during that window will ever likely see it. So 10 great things over the course of a workday is much better than just 30 minutes.
How to schedule tweets? One useful tool that I use constantly is HootSuite. An alternative tool owned by Twitter is TweetDeck, and is comparable. One weakness of TweetDeck though is the absence of a Firefox extension, which I use a lot. The HootSuite extension can pull the title of the webpage with awesome content you’ve found and want to share, will automatically shorten the link for you, and give you a little window where you can do any edits and scheduling that you want.
So my prior claim of >90% RT’s may need to be amended to something lower; perhaps 70%, because in my travels across the web there’s some great stuff out there. You also may find other great content that might be of interest to your followers.
Like what? How about a 20 foot dinosaur made of balloons? Or what about this webpage that catalogs key NGS references for de-novo assembly? Or how about this video on viewing the planet Earth from the International Space Station?
(Excuse me while I take 2:10 and view this video again. That part at 0:50 onward with the Northern Lights and a Soyuz capsule in the foreground is remarkable, and watching it now post-‘Gravity’ makes me realize how authentic that movie portrayed space travel.)
If you are still skeptical about social media for product marketing, take a look at this video from Eric Qualman of Socialnomics. We’ve arrived at a day where news isn’t searched for, news finds us; likewise, products are not searched for, products find us. Twitter is a remarkable tool for getting – and staying – very well-informed.
There are other tricks and cool stuff that I’ve incorporated, such as If Then Then That, a great service that can connect your Twitter feed to your FaceBook updates (advice – don’t bother to connect Twitter to LinkedIn, as LinkedIn just becomes too cluttered); a custom domain for a shortening service as a WordPress plugin that will take a long link and turn it into something like http://yuz.li/5c that autoforwards to a Harvard Business Review piece on work-life imbalance. Yet another thing I’ve done is to scrape every tweet that goes out and put it into a separate WordPress blog, which acts as my own personal database of tweets going all the way back to the beginning. (Recently Twitter enabled users to download the last 3,000 or so tweets to their local hard drive, and setup some local code to run in a web browser to search it. Details are here.)
It has been well-said that ‘FaceBook is for the friends you have, and Twitter is for the friends you want to have’. I have made many real-life friends via Twitter, where I first got to ‘know’ them from the material that came across my feed.
And regarding Eric Topol – that Nature Biotechnology piece he referenced during his talk came out on Sunday night, while I was en route to Boston. It was about Foundation Medicine’s major publication, and was a really a nice surprise. He gave his talk only Monday afternoon. I would expect that he found out about that paper via Twitter.