I was once Australia’s most followed surgeon on Twitter, according to dear wife. She was probably right, as always. I had more than 3700 followers on my account, but very few people knew who I was behind that necktie avi. You see, I was an anonymous, or more correctly, a pseudonymous. There were 3 reasons why I chose to start off life on Twitter as an anonymous surgeon:
- Who wanted to hear my voice anyway? I was a young trainee surgeon at the time. There were more important people and celebrities to follow. Who wants to follow me? Well apparently, as this twitter experiment rolled out, quite a few.
- Is it really safe to be a doctor on Twitter? Australia was grappling with the legalities of doctoring and tweeting. No one was sure if it was safe to be a doctor on social media. I think we’re a little wiser now.
- How do you use this Twitter thing? Twitter was new. It didn’t come with a manual. I haven’t found my voice. I didn’t know what works and what doesn’t.
So, over 5 years and more than 22000 tweets, I learned a few things from Twitter:
- People are inherently interested in other people’s lives. So somehow, as I shared my victories and struggles through my surgical training, people listened and friendships were built.
- Twitter is the great equalizer and collaborator. On twitter I can speak to a Professor, Astronaut and Miss Universe at the same time. We’re each individuals with a voice and the chance to collaborate on multiple issues affecting individuals and the great public.
- The rules of real life applied to Twitter. Respect, kindness and authenticity are valued as much on Twitter as in real life. If you’re not a likeable person in real life, chances are, you won’t be likeable on Twitter.
After having found my voice and learned the good and bad of Twitter, I decided to lock the account, come out and start afresh with a new personal account. I’ve learned now the difference between the effectiveness of an anonymous, and that of a named account. I learned that these are the strengths of an anonymous:
- People were happy to treat the anonymous as a sounding board of their issues. I had lots of DMs and private conversations with people from around the world. I suppose, it’s like talking to a bartender or cab driver. People were happy to spill out their guts to someone they don’t really know by name.
- As an anonymous, I was the court jester or stand-up comedian who could point out issues in real life and poke fun at it with the hope of bringing a serious message. There are many effective anonymous accounts that do this very well. As a named person, however, I tend to be a lot more careful with my words as it can now be contextualized and locked to a person, time and place. The generality of the issues discussed suddenly become specifics.
- Being an anonymous was for me a safe way to learn, observe and discover what twitter was all about. I learned the strengths and limitations of twitter. I have regretted a handful of tweets. Who wouldn’t? I have learned some good lessons.
Twitter is a powerful medium of communication and collaboration. I would encourage all physicians and surgeons to consider being on Twitter to extend your reach and impact. If however, you are concerned and hesitant about it, I would suggest a gentle progression from Twitter anonymity to community.