Carol Bush, BS, RN
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 an always-on, instant newsfeed. For me, it has another use: as a virtual Personal Learning Network (PLN) that supports my professional learning and development.
More than just “another social networking tool,” Twitter is about connecting with like-minded healthcare professionals for personalized and ongoing professional development.
Twitter is the backbone for my PLN. Each 140-character post allows quick and easy transmission of information to links yielding websites, videos, podcasts, and interviews— dream resources for busy nurse clinicians. By simply asking, we can receive resources from nurses around the globe.
What is a Personal Learning Network?
A PLN is a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, 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 and learning. By using Twitter, nurses can access the collective knowledge of their peers, engage in discussions and participate in collaborative projects whenever and wherever they like. This engagement requires a high degree of transparency and a willingness to experiment with new ways of learning and connecting within a technology-mediated network.
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 nurse 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 and accepting.
What Can A Twitter PLN Do for You?
Through PLNs, healthcare professionals exchange methods and strategies. Online discussions and links enable access to materials that are exchanged through networked nurses in real time.
So, how do you actually connect with people you want to talk to? Here are four easy ways to jump into the right conversations with the right people for your professional interests. Try spending 15 minutes a day interacting on Twitter and you will build a robust network. Here’s how:
1. Seek out the authors of the content you read
Who are the social influencers in your area of expertise? One of the best places to start is websites you go to for content. Check out the authors—people who contribute to on- line publications usually have a social presence, too. Follow them on Twitter and comment on their articles. Take it a step further and tweet some feedback. Giving a compliment with insight on the topic goes a long way.
2. 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.
3. 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 not only shows you’re paying attention, but also shows you’re open to forming new professional relationships.
4. 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 (http:// www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags
). It is the single most important tool I use to locate Twitter chats, healthcare topic hashtags and conferences. You can 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.
And, you are always welcome to call me—the phone is still my favorite social media tool!