by Heather J. Furnas, M.D.
“Why would I want to join Twitter?” asked my father, David W. Furnas, emeritus professor with an inch-thick C.V.
It all started when I told my father about a tweet from his former medical student, Michael Ozaki:
Your father is the doctor I tried to be. Simply one of finest people I have ever met. It was a privilege to be taught by him.
…to which @olivierbranford responded:
Can we start a campaign to get your inspirational father on @twitter?
My father looked skeptical, but amused.
“What does the ‘@’ mean?” he asked.
“It identifies the username, or handle. If you joined Twitter, you could be @DavidFurnasMD.”
He nodded and smiled, so I continued.
“Let’s take a look at your phone and set up an account,” I said.
Within minutes, @DavidFurnasMD had an account and a bio that read, ‘Emeritus Prof Dept. Plastic Surgery, UC Irvine, Advisory Board African Medical & Research Foundation.’
“Now for the photos,” I said. “Without a profile photo, you’ll look like an egg, and the header photo warms up your homepage like a picture on a living room wall.”
Soon my father’s smile looked out from the screen, while in the background he stood next to a Cessna as an East African Flying Doctor, along with his three children.
“That didn’t take long,” he said. “What do we do next?”
“Start following people and see if they’ll follow you back. Aim for retweeters, leaders, and influencers. Follow @drheatherfurnas and see if she’ll follow you back,” I said with a laugh.
“It worked—She’s following me now!”
I guided him toward plastic surgery influencers with lots of followers who posted interesting content, retweeted, and interacted with others. Soon he was following @olivierbranford, @DrRodRohrich, and @prsjournal. As we went through his timeline looking at all the tweets, the retweets, the replies, and the likes, I pointed out the potential for interaction.1
“I just got an alert,” my father said, looking at his phone. “It’s says something about @olivierbranford.”
“He must have mentioned you in a tweet. Look under your notifications, and click.”
Dr Branford’s tweet read:
“The Retaining Ligaments of the Cheek” A must read by @DavidFurnasMD.
Included in the tweet was a link to the 1989 article, which had been published in PRS.
Dr. Branford added one more tweet:
@prsjournal Pioneering #plasticsurgery paper by master surgeon and academic legend @DavidFurnasMD.
My father stared at the screen.
“You notice that Dr. Branford wrote your username instead of your real name,” I said.
“Does that make a difference?”
“He could have typed ‘Dr. David Furnas,’ but that wouldn’t count as a mention, and you never would have gotten the alert.”
“Why did he put a hashtag in front of plasticsurgery, and why is it spelled as one word?”
“Excellent question,” I replied. “A hashtag marks, or tags, a keyword or topic so users searching that name can find the pertinent tweets. By including #plasticsurgery, Dr. Branford promoted his tweet specifically to an audience interested in plastic surgery.”
A few days later, the “Retaining Ligaments”2 tweet had 32 retweets and 22 likes.
“O.K., Heather, I’m beginning to see the potential.”
“I knew you’d be a great tweep!”
“Someone active on Twitter.”
Over the next few weeks, my father learned to reply, “like,” quote tweet, and retweet. Studying his tweets, he analyzed why some gained traction and some didn’t. Tweets with images, hashtags, and links got more engagement. 3 The more active he became, the more followers he gained, and his timeline became more interesting. He read articles, enjoyed conversations, and met people from across the globe.
“Now that I have more followers, my tweets reach more timelines,” he said to me one day. “A tweet to 200 people is a whisper, but a tweet to 10,000 would be a roar.”
But the number of followers wasn’t all that mattered. We saw that some people had lots of followers, but they had little engagement because the quality of their tweets was poor. Posting a tweet to 300 and getting 24 retweets was better than posting to 10,000 and being ignored.
Now he understood that if we plastic surgeons banded together on Twitter and retweeted en masse, we could:
- Counteract misleading information disseminated by non-Plastic Surgeons.
- Drown out celebrity stories trivializing Plastic Surgery.
- Bring scientific articles out from hiding in journals and library stacks and share them with the world.
- Promote one’s practice directly rather than through a third party.
- Read articles important to our colleagues that we wouldn’t otherwise read.
- Educate patients who increasingly look to social media for guidance.
- Develop camaraderie among a global community.
Number seven was my favorite and most unexpected outcome of Twitter, and I suspect my father’s as well. He discovered it one day when a young British plastic surgeon, @drplas, sent him a direct message:
It is such an honour sir! Thank you for everything you’ve done for our field. I must have said your name a thousand times in my training. Truly honoured. My best wishes.
As soon as he’d read it, my father showed me the message, and then he responded:
Thank you, Theo. You are so very kind. I’m sorry we’re unable to meet in person, but I’m glad we’ve “met” on Twitter. My very best wishes to you as well.
That was the part I couldn’t explain to my father. He had to experience it himself. Some of the very best people are on Twitter sharing plastic surgery articles, educating patients, caring for others, spreading kindness, and occasionally taking quill to digital parchment to tell a retired man what a difference he made to the world.
- http://youtu.be/WeYWMgdjEoE Accessed December 8 2015
- “The Retaining Ligaments of the Cheek” by David W. Furnas. Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery:
January 1989. http://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg/Abstract/1989/01000/The_Retaining_Ligaments_of_the_Cheek_.3.aspx
- https://prsonallyspeaking.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/twitter-for-plastic-surgeons-who-are-too-busy-to-tweet/ Accessed December 8. 2015
- (Retweeting) http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/27675/How-to-Retweet-the-Right-Way-in-4-Easy-Steps.aspx
- (Like/Favorite) http://www.thewire.com/technology/2013/07/complete-guide-art-twitter-favorites/67610/
- (Hashtags) https://support.twitter.com/articles/49309
- (Engagement) https://www.stonetemple.com/twitter-engagement-umasked/
- (Promoting articles) http://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2015&issue=10000&article=00072&type=Fulltext
- (Research Impact) http://www.mayaproject.org/blog/2015/10/4/top-twitter-tips-for-academics