Scientists Should Contribute to, Not Shun, Social Media

Co-authored by Monica McLemore, PhD, MPH, RN, assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco, and Candace W. Burton, PhD, RN, AFN-BC, AGN-BC, FNAP assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

It was with great interest that we saw the title of a recent editorial "Scientists and Social Media" in one of the most prestigiously ranked journals in nursing, the Journal of Nursing Scholarship. Unfortunately, our excitement about the editorial, written by journal editor Susan Gennaro, waned as we read it. We're nurse scientists as well as social media consumers and content producers. Our recent work for the Huffington Post on, Five best practices for tweeting from conferences, and a primer on getting started using Twitter has been specifically and purposively targeted to bring social media to nursing and nursing to social media.

Gennaro's editorial unwittingly highlights a significant problem in nursing (including nursing education, nursing science, and specifically nursing journal editors), which is that these "guardians" of the profession are frequently perceived as being out of touch with earlier career nurse scientists as well as with minority nurses and minority nurse scientists. In her editorial, Gennaro eschews Twitter and embraces LinkedIn. As it turns out, she uses social media exactly as the majority of people with the same type of profession (white collar), education (PhD), and age (65). Among White/Caucasian adults only 10% of internet users age 65 years or older use Twitter, and only 12% of internet users age 50-64 years use Twitter (Pew Research Center, 2015), but we need to expect more from our nurse leaders. It's time that our established nurse leaders embrace the diverse options in social media.

Social media provides us with a tremendous opportunity to support the ongoing and future development of our nurses, scientists, and professional leaders. Just think of this week's reaction on social media by nurses all over the world who criticized comments made by the hosts of the television program The View. The "show me your stethoscope" social media campaign, and the backlash against the network and threats of boycotts were immediate, swift, and effective. Clearly, engagement in all forms of social media allows us as professionals to directly reach and interact with net-native colleagues, including those who may be preparing to become our colleagues, and those from backgrounds that represent the diversity we so desperately need in nursing--such as those who are Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino.

Gennaro notes that she enjoys social media, specifically Facebook, in her personal life, but that Twitter is not for her. She goes on to say that she would not tweet, which is totally acceptable in her private life and certainly she has the right to avoid Twitter. However, in her professional role as Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Nursing Scholarship, we believe that it sets a problematic precedent when a tool like Twitter that could disseminate our science to a wider and more diverse audience is so blithely disregarded. In fact, the president of the journal's association -- Sigma Theta Tau, International -- Hester Klopper, is an active tweeter (@klopperhc).

From our perspectives, it seems odd that a journal with an international focus wouldn't utilize a tool that's credited with helping to connect people from around the world. Twitter has been credited with several critical social movements from the Arab spring to Black Lives Matter. It seems odd that nursing, a cutting-edge field that touches so many areas of the human condition, and its affiliate scholarly institutions, would reject such a powerful tool. To add further insult to injury, the Journal of Nursing Scholarship does not publish Letters to the Editor and only occasionally on the website that hosts the journal. This serves as yet another example of short sightedness when social media allows for instant comments and feedback to institutions and organizations from their end users and people they serve.

To Gennaro's credit, in the editorial she discussed more cutting edge social media tools for scientists such as Altmetrics and Kudos. We agree that these are important tools for scientists, however, we hope that, if senior nursing leaders cannot embrace it, than at least this post may help Gennaro and others to recognize that Twitter is used by international audiences (of scientists, practitioners, and the public), by persons of color, and perhaps most broadly by younger professionals and students. We've also discussed why nurses need twitter and suggest using it as a tool in a previous HuffPo post. Nursing leaders must engage fully with persons of color and younger professionals and students, not just through scholarly journals, but also through social media tools such as Twitter, if we hope to continue to enjoy the remarkable growth in the science and the profession that we have seen to this point.

To be sure, we know that some who may want to engage using Twitter may experience a "learning curve" that may ultimately dissuade them. We simply ask that leaders in nursing consider novel partnerships with those of us who do use social media to engage the readership in several ways. For example, Nancy Chescheir, editor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in her most recent editorial described working with junior fellows of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology to develop blogs, TED talks, and other social media-ready documents for key articles being published at each journal release. In fact, the three of us are working with active tweeting colleagues (Jenny Carrick from UC Davis @ucdavis_nursing and Laura Perry from UCLA @UCLAnursing) and with the American Academy of Nursing's 2015 Conference Planning Committee to bring Twitter to the conference (#AAN15). We hope that these efforts, as well as this blog post, will support the continued position of our profession and science as cutting edge in the 21st century.