One of the benefits of having an online presence is making connections with professionals from all over the world. Many people consider Twitter as a way to comment on celebrities, or even as an always-on, instant newsfeed. For me it has another use: as a virtual Personal Learning Network that supports my professional learning and development.
Twitter is more than just “another social networking tool.” It differs from Facebook in that it isn’t just about reconnecting with people you know or sharing what you’re cooking for dinner. The Twitter community is about connecting with like-minded healthcare professionals for personalized and ongoing professional development.
It’s used by people in nearly every country around the world. For nurses, this means you have access to thousands of colleagues around the world with rich backgrounds and experiences that can contribute to your professional growth.
What is a Personal Learning Network?
A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a tool that uses social media and technology to communicate, collaborate, and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. Each individual in your network becomes a potential source of information.
The open nature of Twitter means learning networks are no longer confined to closed and private spaces, but are open and public. This increases opportunities for collaboration, connections, and learning opportunities. By using Twitter, nurses can access the collective knowledge of their peers, engage in discussions, debates, conversations, and participate in projects whenever and wherever they like.
PLNs Develop Thought Leaders
Many nurses who were early adopters of Twitter have gone on to become thought leaders in healthcare, not surprising given that PLNs seem to promote a great deal of reflection and collaboration. Building a network via Twitter seems to stimulate, for many, the need to express themselves further in blogging, speaking, podcasts, and writing e-books. Additionally, many established thought leaders develop PLNs to maintain relevancy by following good ideas, rich discussions, and resources. I have found while developing my PLN via Twitter that the healthcare social media community is very welcoming.
What Can A Twitter PLN Do for You?
Twitter is the backbone for my PLN. Each 140-character post allows quick and easy transmission of information to links yielding websites, videos, podcasts, blog posts, articles, interviews and excerpts—dream resources for busy nurse clinicians. By simply asking, we can receive content and strategies from sources around the globe.
Through PLNs, healthcare professionals exchange methods and strategies. Online discussions and links enable access to materials that would not be revealed otherwise. Resources are accessible and exchanged through networked nurses in real time.
So, how do you actually connect with people you want to talk to? Here are a few easy ways to jump into the right conversations with the right people for you and your professional interests. Don’t make it hard! Try spending 15 minutes a day interacting on Twitter and you will build a robust network. Here’s how:
- Seek out the Authors of the Content You Read
Who are the social influencers in your area of expertise? Identifying these people is particularly useful in seeking out great conversations. One of the best places to start is the blogs or websites you go to for content. Check out the authors—people who contribute to online publications usually have a social presence, too. Follow them on Twitter and take the time to let them know what you think. Comment on their articles or blogs, then take it a step further and tweet some feedback. Giving a compliment with some added insight on the topic goes a long way.
- Leverage Twitter Keyword Searches
Twitter can be a great source of information, but it can also be one of the noisiest places on the web. A great way to find people, filter tweets, and join a conversation is to search for keywords related to the topics you’re interested in. For example, if you work in management, a place to start would be a key phrase like “nurse leaders.”
Seems simple—but this isn’t a perfect science, and it requires some trial and error to see which keywords get you the results you want (for example, you might also try “nursing” or “healthcare leaders”). Play around with different versions, and join the conversation when you find something of interest. Reply to people’s tweets and give your feedback or comments. Did someone link out to an article and give her opinion? Tell her that you agree or disagree and why.
- Meet the People Who Are Following You
Scan your notifications and take a peek at who is following you. When it’s appropriate, connect with these people, thinking about why they might have taken the time to follow your profile. Are they in your field? In your community? A nurse researcher? Reaching out to engage in conversation not only shows you’re paying attention, but also shows you’re open to forming new professional relationships.
- Join Relevant Twitter Chats
Twitter chats are great forums for discussions—members often share articles, ask questions, and start online conversations with each other. Lucky for us, we have our friends at Symplur who built The Healthcare Hashtag Project. Familiarize yourself with the website; it is quite literally the single most important tool I use to locate Twitter chats, healthcare topic hashtags and conferences.
Build a network of trusted colleagues beyond your organization. Learn how to use Twitter and become comfortable with the healthcare communities being built. Share ideas, answer questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
You are always welcome to call me—the phone is still my favorite social media tool!
(A version of this post appears in a previous edition of Oncology Nursing News. You can check out all the marrvy nurse writers who contribute to the online edition here.) Are you interested in learning how to launch your side gig as a healthcare freelance writer? Check out the community just for healthcare freelance writers: The Healthcare Marketing Network.