The sound of tweets grows fainter

Recently I was live tweeting a major Canadian heath care conference dealing with virtual care and digital medicine when I came to the realization – not for the first time – that the most dense and lively interaction was happening elsewhere.

I usually don’t inhabit the chat forums associated with presentations on platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams but in this instance I did and I found the discussion to be far denser and robust than anything occurring on Twitter using the hashtag for the meeting.

For someone who has developed somewhat of a focus on live tweeting medical and healthcare conferences this came as a revelation. Now, having attended several virtual conferences it is clear the current environment is shaping how conference materials are being disseminated.

I had already noticed that since the total transformation of major medical and health IT conferences to a virtual format that Twitter traffic around the meeting hashtags seemed sparser than usual. Not that it has disappeared, but rather than the volume in many cases is significantly reduced.

While it is great that discussion forums associated with the new virtual meeting platforms often have great engagement and are usually fundamental to promoting interactions between speakers and conferences attendees I do have a few concerns.

* Forums on virtual platforms are limited to those who are registered to a meeting or particular session, meaning comments – unlike with Twitter – are not being shared with a broader audience. The content from these discussion forums is also often immediately lost after the session has concluded.

* Discussion forums are often disabled for certain conferences – or just limited to posting questions, meaning many important medical or health conferences have no place for interaction and engagement.

* While many meeting platforms have specific functionality for people to initiate discussions on specific conference-related topics, these often seem to get little or no pickup.

* In a world where medical journalists and medical news publications are becoming endangered, the absence of any dissemination of information beyond a conference itself through live tweeting could be hamper the spread of important information and enlightened discussion about that information.

Of course, all media evolve and social media are no exception. I believe live tweeting has been an important if not essential component of medical and healthcare conferences for a few years and has shown its value. But while meetings remain virtual and take place exclusively on virtual meeting platforms I believe a fundamental shift has occurred, and this may no longer be the case.

Personally I still view Twitter as valuable in the healthcare space for both disseminating information and for networking and will continue to roost here.

But I do believe a transition to virtual meetings and whatever sort of hybrid evolves after we have braved the COVID-19 storm is going to once again transform how we disseminate and discuss ideas that matter in medicine and healthcare much as Twitter did initially and did again when the character count was doubled.

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