Spreading the Word: Twitter vs. Facebook

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Younes_August.jpgTwitter still has no business model. I've heard this before. But somehow, it seems that everyone is on Twitter these days.

Some are tweeting serious stuff with helpful links that can provide important information, like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the National Cancer Institute and M. D. Anderson. Others broadcast to the world every detail of their personal lives, like a New Yorker who felt we needed to know that she was at the supermarket buying lettuce.

In a Twitter community that has no boundaries, anyone can follow anybody and say anything. Therefore, it's not surprising that many remain confused about the real value of Twitter. There are those who find tweeting is a new communication opportunity, while others feel that it's a complete waste of time. Users of Facebook claim that their social media  outlet has more value as they connect with selected old and new friends to share information. Before you know it, the world is becoming polarized between Twitter and Facebook aficionados. We've seen this polarization before: Mac vs. PC and iPhone vs. BlackBerry.

So, what's the best social media outlet to share medical information with the general public? I previously explained why I use social media to share educational materials on lymphoma.  The advantage of Twitter is that you're reaching millions of people anytime, anywhere in the world. There's no question that Twitter can be a powerful tool to spread certain information to the masses. Look at what happened in Iran recently. The disadvantage is, if those millions aren't connected at the same time or they aren't interested, the tweet can indeed be a waste of time.

But for the medical professional like myself, how useful is Twitter? Is it better to tweet to strangers or broadcast to a few selected friends on Facebook? And what about good old Google? Many of us use the Google search engine to find certain information on the web.

So, do we really need to spread the word on social media, or is it better to write a blog post and let people find the information through search engines? I don't think anyone has a simple answer. But I know that Googling a topic isn't good enough.

Have you tried lately to look for information on lymphoma or find a clinical trial for lymphoma on Google? There are endless listings of clinical trials that not only are confusing, but many also are outdated. Also, there's inaccurate information out there. Because of that, my first piece of advice to my web-savvy patients is "do not look for information on the web." I encourage them to ask me the questions, and if they ask for additional information, I provide them with reliable references. In contrast, my tweets provide reliable medical information with up-to-date links in real time. 

I must admit that despite this effort and good intentions, I'm unable to accurately measure the value of my use of social media. However, I know it's adding value. As I pointed out in my previous blog post, our YouTube segment was associated with an increase in referrals to clinical trials at our center. Patients told us so. Since I started tweeting four months ago, the viewers who watched the YouTube video increased from about 5,000 to more that 9,500. Viewers could be anywhere from Japan, Kenya, Russia or the United States. If someone is viewing this, then the message is being spread.

As many medical organizations are now also using social media outlets, there's a flood of medical information on Twitter and Facebook, creating uncertainties on which one, if either, is the way to go. So, for now, and until someone declares victory, I'm using both. And, by the way,  I also use a Mac and a PC, and own a BlackBerry and an iPhone.


Dr. Younes -- I agree with you on much of what you describe in this post and I applaud you for embracing the new communications tools to convey your thoughts.

The discussion shouldn't be on Twitter versus Facebook any more than it is the telephone vs. face-to-face meeting, IM versus e-mail, webcast vs. podcast. They are all different tools that has relevance and impact for different situations.

On Twitter specifically, the value to me is not in who is following me but in who I follow. It is from these individuals and select brands/corporations, that I glean information of interest to my work at Dell or to my personal interests. (e.g. I follow people like @chrisbrogan for social media ideas and content, @gartner for enterprise oriented work content, people from my church for personal interests and @iamjustintaylor or @crowderband for music that I'm interested in.)

I was on a call recently with @ShelIsrael where he was discussing his upcoming book "Twitterville." In the call he said a number of provocative things, the most impactful being "Twitter enables you to hug an old friend the first time you meet them."

That's certainly been the case for me as I've met people with like interests on Twitter and then eventually met them face-to-face. It's as though we've been friends for years.

I imagine there was a similar reaction to the use of telephones many years ago. You actually got to hear the person's voice so that when you met in person, it was as though you had known them forever.

To me, "social media" tools are just that -- tools. They are tools to communicate and convey thoughts and feelings - much like e-mail, telephone, cell phones, IM and Facebook.

You say you can't measure the value of your social media activities. How about your e-mail, your telephone calls or that round of golf with a colleague?

Thanks for your post and insights from a world that is very different from mine.


Nice post, Dr. Younes. I believe your Twitter feed is probably highly useful to patients. However, Twitter only archives your Tweets for 1.5 weeks! There are some Twitter archiving tools you can use to make sure your Tweets and links can always be found. Keep up the great work.

It's not a competition between facebook and twitter. Each service has their advantages, and their audiences (as you described). As I see it, there's a few goals here: One is to reach a maximum number of people with minimal effort. The other is to make information as accessible and scannable as possible. Both twitter, and facebook fail on that second goal because they are not made to handle the indexing of information... especially in the form of links!, amongst other social bookmarking utilities, are meant to handle the indexing of links. To the information seeker, this is a much more favorable ratio of signal to noise vs. facebook and twitter. Delicious has a browser plugin, to easily bookmark URLS, and is now fully integratable with RSS (so you can put your links on your blog automatically). It's also now possible to update your twitter status as a step in the bookmarking process. Since it is possible to link your twitter status to your facebook status, you can hypothetically update all three (and also post to your blog) when you bookmark something on delicious.

I am working on a chart to explain in this in greater detail.

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