An Introduction and Guide to Becoming a Social Media Savvy Nephrologists

Natasha N. Dave; Matthew A. Sparks; Samira S. Farouk


Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2022;37(1):14-20. 

In This Article

The Virtual, Global Nephrology Community

Blogs, NephMadness and NephJC

About a decade ago, the first virtual meeting place of the nephrology social media community occurred on the comment section of fledgling personal blogs (Renal Fellow Network,[18] Precious Bodily Fluids, UKidney and Nephron Power were some of the earliest, Figure 1). On these blogs, posts focused on high-yield topics relevant to the global nephrology community and invited debate and discussion. Shortly thereafter (~2010), these conversations moved to Twitter. The ease of discourse on Twitter allowed for quicker conversation and planted the seed of a global community. Early on, the conversations on Twitter were small, oftentimes unfocused, and occurring sporadically at random times. The solution was the creation of a unifying event—in 2013, NephMadness served as the first de facto meeting for the online nephrology community and has become an important milestone in the growth of the online nephrology community.[19–21]

Figure 1.

Nephrology social media timeline.

NephMadness, a product of the American Journal of Kidney Diseases online companion blog (first termed eAJKD and now AJKDblog), is an educational tournament played out on social media that has been held annually each March. This event allowed for an international gathering of nephrologists (and anyone interested in kidney health) to interact and connect virtually. The tournament is modeled after the National College Athletic Association March Madness basketball tournament. Instead of basketball teams, NephMadness pits nephrology concepts in eight regions against each other in a bracket. Early examples included pairings like 'Fistula First Initiative' versus 'Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) First Initiative' in the Dialysis Region and 'Mycophenolate Mofetil' versus 'Cyclophosphamide' in the Kidney Transplantation Region.[22] During the tournament in March, participants read blog posts written about these topics and debate them on Twitter. Because of NephMadness, online conversations became more focused and deliberate. Participants add the hashtag (#) #NephMadness to each tweet, so that other participants can easily find them. The number of individuals using the #NephMadness hashtag on Twitter during the tournament grew from 77 in 2013 to 1719 in 2019.[21]

One year after the inaugural NephMadness, another key component of the nephrology community was born, in 2014: the online Nephrology Journal Club (NephJC; Figure 1).[12] NephJC is a biweekly, hour-long, online journal club that occurs on Twitter, similar to a divisional grand rounds or in-person journal club schedule. Prior to the session or 'Twitter chat', a blog post summarizing the research study is published. The discussion itself is led by a host who tweets from NephJC's Twitter account and poses sequential questions to the group to focus the discussion. Similar to #NephMadness, the hashtag #NephJC is added to each tweet and allows anyone to follow tweets related to the discussion in real-time or review afterward. Over the last 5 years, NephJC has expanded its reach by hosting these chats in three separate time zones (North American, Europe and Asia). Each session typically garners ~100 people who use the #NephJC hashtag, and it is likely that others passively follow the discussions. During the chat, a clinical nephrologist in Houston, a gastroenterologist in Phoenix, a patient with advanced CKD and a medical student in Brooklyn can all engage on a platform irrespective of location, medical specialty or training level. This allows for global dissemination of information throughout our community (and beyond) instantaneously. Moreover, the recurrent nature of NephJC helps to reinforce relationships and strengthen collaborations. Authors of the research study are frequently chat participants, providing a unique opportunity for individuals to ask questions about study design or statistical analysis directly to the authors.

#Nephrology Hashtags

With the flood of information available on social media platforms, how does one streamline their experience? Briefly discussed above, a widely used solution to this is the hashtag (#), which serves as a categorical tag for a social media message.[23,24] For example, following the hashtag #nephrology on Twitter takes the user to the latest or most popular tweets containing that hashtag. A popular nephrology hashtag is #AskRenal, which essentially tags a message with 'This is a question for the nephrology community.' An automated Twitter account, or Twitter bot, was designed in 2016 by the Nephrology Social Media Collective (NSMC) to search Twitter for #AskRenal and then retweet the message if found. The #AskRenal Twitter bot account has >3500 followers.[25] This mechanism allows for an individual with a limited network of Twitter followers to reach a larger and more engaged audience. Initially inspired by an inquisitive medical student on Twitter, the goal of #AskRenal and the Twitter bot account was to yield a wealth of responses for all nephrology-related questions posed on Twitter and cultivate a culture of learning.[23] For example, a learner asked 'What are other causes of oval fat bodies and fatty casts in urine besides nephrotic syndrome? #AskRenal' on Twitter, and this question was answered by several individuals with citations. This initiative is an example of how the virtual nephrology community was further strengthened by allowing both trainees and colleagues to discuss nephrology topics in an open learning environment. The AskRenal Twitter bot account retweets ~120–150 tweets per month that have been flagged with #AskRenal.

Similarly, society meetings and specialty conferences of all sizes have utilized hashtags to enrich the conference experience for both attendees and those unable to attend. A decade ago, conference material was not accessible unless one was physically present. Now, many nephrology conferences such as the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) Kidney Week, European Renal Association – European Dialysis and Transplant Association (ERA-EDTA) Congress, International Society of Nephrology (ISN) World Congress of Nephrology, National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Spring Clinical Meeting, KIDNEYcon and Nephrology Business Leadership University, among others, have facilitated live sharing of content by removing on taking pictures of slides and actively encourage social media sharing—creating a virtual conference experience. In order to enhance content sharing at conferences, we suggest using photo enhancing applications like Office Lens or U Scanner to allow pictures of projected slides to become more legible. In addition, threading (linking in order) tweets is an effective way to organize content to permit learners to read multiple slides of a presentation. Conference content shared via Twitter and coupled with the conference's official hashtag (e.g. #KidneyWk, #NKFClinicals, #KIDNEYcon, #NBLUniv) has been shown to promote networking, resource sharing, practice updates, public awareness and online discussion of sessions to both conference attendees and those who do not attend.[4,5,7,26] Both national and international nephrology societies (e.g. ISN, ERA-EDTA, NKF) have developed social media teams to provide more structure and deliberate coverage of conferences.[27] Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests that social media exposure at conferences may serve as a stimulus for individuals to increase their social media engagement after the meeting.[28]