Tweeting the Meeting: Twitter Use at The American Society of Breast Surgeons Annual Meeting 2013-2016

There is a growing interest in documenting the use of Twitter at medical meetings. “Tweeting the meeting” has many benefits, including enhancing the educational experience of meeting attendees, disseminating content to those not in attendance (physicians, patients, general public and the media), and increasing the visibility of the medical organization. While still seen by many as frivolous, an increasing number of physicians and organizations understand the real value that comes from an active social media presence during conferences.

We recently published the 2013-2016 American Society of Breast Surgeons Annual Meeting Twitter experience. Conference organizers made concerted efforts over the time period studied to provide social media education to members through pre-meeting courses and breakfast symposia. In 2014 and 2015, the general meeting began with a brief “Twitter 101” presentation, and selected sessions utilized “tweet moderators” to take questions from the audience.

Using Symplur Signals, we were able to document a large increase in the number of tweets, Twitter users, and impressions during the 4 year period. The overwhelming majority of tweets (72-80%) were related to scientific content, and only a small proportion (13-23%) were categorized as social. Interestingly, the majority of physician tweets were from non-member physicians who were not attending the meeting. In addition, 11-35% of tweets were from patients. Neither of these usage patterns have been previously demonstrated. The large number non-member tweets demonstrates that many are interested in what goes on behind closed conference room doors. In this era of rapid dissemination of research findings, conference organizers and participants need to realize that their audience is not simply those in attendance – the world is watching.

During the time period evaluated, Twitter use increased but there was no decrease in meeting attendance. While 4 years may not be enough time to assess the possible impact of a robust social media presence on meeting attendance, it is our view that those who are interested and able to attend a meeting will not stay away simply because they anticipate a robust Twitter feed. We recommend that conference organizers take steps to embrace the use of Twitter at medical meetings. This can lead to more robust global discussions and collaboration, increased organization and physician visibility, and of course, the occasional selfie.

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