I've written here before about the potential benefits of people joining Twitter (twitter.com) as a tool to share more than just trivial information about what you're eating for lunch or your random musings while in the line at the bank. I have met many remarkable people through Twitter and learned an incredible amount of very timely information from what I've seen in the "twitter streams" from people and organizations I follow. I also use it to share the latest results in real time on important trials being presented at medical meetings. But Twitter can also be helpful in cultivating a sense of community.
One key way in which this is achieved is in the form of a "tweet chat", a process in which a group of people who all share a common interest join a conversation on Twitter at an appointed hour by all including a common "hashtag" of # plus a term, like "#LungCancer", that can be filtered to follow as a "conversation" that people can read and join in. There are even tools, such as going to the URL tchat.io, that can filter a hashtag and add it automatically to your tweets so that you can participate easily.
Why do tweet chats? They can be harried and difficult to follow if they're crowded, like a very busy party, but it can be a quick way to share information and support in a high energy setting. For two years now, there has been a breast cancer tweet chat, where patients, caregivers, and health care professionals all share information and support. The lung cancer community is clearly long overdue, so yesterday we had our first lung cancer tweet chat publicized by Deana Hendrickson (@LungCancerFaces) that I moderated. The hashtag is "#lcsm", for "lung cancer social media", a format typically used for many online groups, since we need the hashtag to be specific but as abbreviated as possible when you only have 140 characters to work with.
For a first effort, it was a remarkably successful showing, as we had a total of 68 participants from all over, writing over 700 tweets. Typically, tweet chats cover 2-3 topics led by a moderator, so we started with the question of what people want from the chat (largely support and a growing sense of community, as well as new information/education), followed by discussion of their thoughts on the biggest challenges the lung cancer community faces today (stigma, inadequate funding, limited ability to detect it early enough), then ultimately ending with a discussion of key issues around chest CT screening. Those who are interested can download a pdf of the transcript here:
Our biggest issue was the "champagne problem" of it being so busy that it was hard to follow, as often happens when a tweet chat becomes lively discussion with many people. But that's far better than having too little interest. Before yesterday, I was concerned that there might not be sufficient interest and participation to sustain the discussion. Several people noted that they were overjoyed during the chat to see so much enthusiasm, and I too was very heartened and gratified to be part of a lung cancer event that was creating great momentum and energy.
We're now definitely going to do this as a recurring event. Our next lung cancer tweet chat will be on Thursday, August 8th, at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT. This is about fostering a community, and it's your chat, so we'd love your ideas for topics you want to cover. If you're at all interested, please join the twitter-based lung cancer community: just follow hashtag #lcsm at the appointed time and get ready to read and hopefully type quickly for an hour. And if you have trouble keeping up, remember that we'll post a transcript of each one.
I hope we'll have a bigger community in the future!