The first #hcsmca chat I remember being actively involved in took place on Jan. 19, 2011. Since that time I have been involved in a number of formal chats and ongoing conversations on #hcsmca almost continuously – and some might add even excessively.
Since Colleen Young started #hcsmca in September, 2010, the community has touched more than 8000 people (i.e. they have used the hcsmca hashtag) and contributed to arguably some of the most intelligent conversations occurring on Twitter with respect to the use of social media in health care. It has also helped introduce countless physicians, health care publicists and just plain folks with an interest to the world of health care and social media.
The virtual community has even become the subject of academic discourse with the presentation in London in September and then subsequent publication in the Journal of Internet Medical Research of work by Drs. Anatoliy Gruzd and Caroline Haythornthwaite on enabling community through social media
But at this very pinnacle of its success I have noticed something disconcerting – the number of participants in the weekly chats that make up the core of #hcsmca have dwindled sometimes alarmingly and the ongoing flow of knowledge represented by tweets referencing #hcsmca also seem to be in decline.
These signals have taken place at a time when the practical if not spiritual heart of #hcsmca, Colleen herself has taken on new responsibilities and divested herself somewhat of daily curation of the site.
#hcsmca has always been championed as a truly democratic virtual community where the moderation of weekly chats has been shared by a very large group of stalwart supporters. But some of those supporters are sometimes not as visible on #hcsmca today.
These observations raise certain critical questions about #hcsmca specifically and Twitter-based virtual communities in general
- Does the format of #hcsmca in 2013 still meet the needs of its members
- Has the use of social media in health care reached such a level of maturity that a virtual meeting place to educate people is no longer necessary
- Is it realistic to expect that altruism alone can keep a virtual community going indefinitely
I raise these questions with the hopes that the #hcsmca will provide answers that I personally don’t have – but I do believe answers must be found if #hcsmca is going to continue to fluorish