MANUSCRIPT: Mapping physician Twitter networks: describing how they work as a first step in understanding connectivity, information flow, and message diffusion.
Twitter is becoming an important tool in medicine, but there is little information on Twitter metrics. In order to recommend best practices for information dissemination and diffusion, it is important to first study and analyze the networks.
This study describes the characteristics of four medical networks, analyzes their theoretical dissemination potential, their actual dissemination, and the propagation and distribution of tweets.
Open Twitter data was used to characterize four networks: the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American College of Physicians (ACP). Data were collected between July 2012 and September 2012. Visualization was used to understand the follower overlap between the groups. Actual flow of the tweets for each group was assessed. Tweets were examined using Topsy, a Twitter data aggregator.
The theoretical information dissemination potential for the groups is large. A collective community is emerging, where large percentages of individuals are following more than one of the groups. The overlap across groups is small, indicating a limited amount of community cohesion and cross-fertilization. The AMA followers’ network is not as active as the other networks. The AMA posted the largest number of tweets while the AAP posted the fewest. The number of retweets for each organization was low indicating dissemination that is far below its potential.
To increase the dissemination potential, medical groups should develop a more cohesive community of shared followers. Tweet content must be engaging to provide a hook for retweeting and reaching potential audience. Next steps call for content analysis, assessment of the behavior and actions of the messengers and the recipients, and a larger-scale study that considers other medical groups using Twitter.