When Dr. John Erwin signed up for Twitter in 2012, there weren’t many other cardiologists engaging in the space. He was apprehensive at first, but over the past five years he has discovered how powerful Twitter can be to develop a personal brand, to have thoughtful exchanges about his profession, and to meet people who later become friends and colleagues. In the process, he’s built a following of over 13,000 people.

Last week, we chatted about how he uses Twitter to connect with others in cardiology, exchanging ideas and influencing patient care––now, 280 characters at a time.

Why would you recommend that cardiologists engage in tweeting?

“I was just in LA for the AHA conference, and while I was there, I saw a sign that sums it up:

Come on in and enjoy what one person on Yelp called the worst meatball sandwich in the country.

I tell people all the time––whether you want it or not, everyone has a web presence. If you want it to be an accurate reflection of who you are, then you need to define yourself rather than let others do it for you. Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to do just that.

I’ve made many connections that have been beyond socially productive. They are professionally productive and have broadened my thinking or my understanding of a topic related to my career. In fact, at this past AHA conference, I met a few people I had previously only talked to on Twitter. It was great to get to know them in person, but it already felt like I was talking with an old friend.”

Some people are nervous about getting going. What would you say to them?

“Yes, people do get a little stage fright in the beginning. It can be a little scary to think that anything you post will be permanently out there. I advise people to start slowly. Find people to follow and just start reading the conversations. Then retweet things you find interesting. It’s a good way to dip your toe in the water.”

How should we choose who we follow?

“Follow people whose work you really admire. Follow news agencies. Follow your favorite sports teams or other handles associated with hobbies of yours.

Some of my favorites within cardiology are: @CMichaelGibson, @DrMarthaGulati, @medicalaxioms, @drjohnm, @MwaltonShirley, @DrArgyle, @cardiacconsult, @DrKevinCampbell, @EJSMD, and @rwyeh.

Can you offer tips for people just getting started on Twitter?

“Twitter 101 is never leave the blank silhouette sitting there in the place of your profile picture. You need a good professional picture. You need a header that tells people who you are and what you plan to tweet about because that is how people will decide if they want to follow you.

Next, I always advise people to talk with your own hospital’s social media team to know what the specific rules are for your organization. Some really encourage it while others have extremely strict guidelines to follow. One of those is to be sure that if you mention your organization in your profile to add a ‘views are my own’ disclaimer.

I use Twitter lists a lot in order to manage the people I am following. Out of my 13,000+ followers, I put the ones I really have interest in hearing about what they say into lists. I started with a cardiology list and now I have broken it into subspecialties. It helps me keep up with what people are talking about.

Finally, always remain professional––especially in professional fields. Before posting, I tell people to ask themselves, ‘Is this a conversation I would have in front of colleagues or patients, or face to face?’ If not, I recommend avoiding the conversation.”

You are very busy, so how do you make social a part of your daily routine?

“Every morning I get up and get on the elliptical trainer, and that’s when I take the first look at my Twitter feed. I get all the international information first thing in the morning. I will tweet, retweet, or post original content on occasion.

Then I spend 10 minutes over lunch reviewing tweets to see what’s going on in medical news and other news as well. And my hospital’s huge; it’s one mile end-to-end. So, while I’m walking from one part of the campus to another, I will also take a look at what’s going on out there. My advice is to combine it with exercise or down time when you can’t do anything else.

In terms of original content, I really only post a small amount. I do a lot of retweeting. I read the article and then quote the tweet from the content from the link.”

Any last thoughts?

“Be who you are. Let me tell you a little something about me. I played offensive line in football where my job was to be the obstacle remover to help the other guy score. That means that I am most comfortable retweeting other people’s content, and I focus on topics I know and care about. For me that means physician wellness, patient care concerns, mindfulness, and the latest in best practices in patient care. I hope I’ve helped people along the way.” ▉

Dr. John Erwin is Professor and Chair, Department of Medicine, Senior Staff Cardiologist at Baylor Scott & White Health / Texas A&M College of Medicine. We’re grateful for Dr. John Erwin taking the time to chat with us about Twitter. Check out his work with the CurrentMD clinical content.