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Feeling like it's hard to stay on top of new information in our practice? Feeling like you're the only one working in your area? Want to be more involved, but don't know where to start? Social media can help. 

In the January/February issue of your magazine Physiotherapy Practice, we profiled five social media leaders from around the world. We are pleased to bring you the extended interviews that helped develop the article for the magazine. You can access the magazine online at:


Meet Alison Hoens, the Physical Therapy Knowledge Broker in British Columbia. You can find her on Twitter @PhysioKTBroker and through her website:

Tell us about how you became active in social media?

As more and more of my colleagues were using it, I started to see how they were engaged. Despite my trepidations, I decided that I should push myself a little bit from being a social media luddite to being more of a rookie. Ultimately my intent was to extend the strategy or the different mechanisms through which I learn and share information in my knowledge brokering. So I was initially spurred on by what I saw others doing even though I was a bit concerned that I wasn’t familiar with it at all. I thought that this was a strategy which appeared unlike other KT(knowledge translation) strategies that I should explore further. 


Tell us about the moment when you realized social media was a useful knowledge translation tool.

I was at a presentation in 2013 in San Diego at the American Congress of Rheumatology. It was about health care providers’ involvement in social media, and they showed some metrics about some of the reach and some of the outcomes. That’s when I recognized that some of my existing mechanisms were pretty limited. I was using email distribution lists which became quickly outdated; there’s a very limited way of expanding those distribution lists. 


What do you consider before you decide to share, repost, post, say, etc.?

Well, I think over time, I’ve learned that there are better days of the week, better times of day and there are key influencers. Before I post, I think about who my target audience is, is this the best day of the week, is this the best time of day? And have I targeted the key influencers, the stakeholders that are most pertinent to this particular thing that I am trying to share? I am aware of that social media profile. Is it respectful? Is it informative? Is it engaging? Is it professional? Not personal or political or inflammatory? How can it be framed in order to elicit the best response, the most number of retweets, or the best action that I am looking for? Those are kind of my considerations.


Where did you learn those things?

It takes time. There wasn’t a course available on how to do social media. I’m sure that there might be something like that now. As I started to dabble in it, I started to pay attention and to look very purposefully at how things were being done. And I noticed that there were days of week and times of day that there was more activity where people were paying attention to it. The other thing is I looked at how messages were being made and I started to pay attention to how many followers there were. 

It was basically watching and learning and dabbling. I would start tweeting just a little bit and lurking a lot. As I learned, I became more comfortable participating to a greater degree. 


What advice would you give health professionals who are interested in using social media for knowledge translation? 

I would say have a coffee and chat with 3-5 people who have a social media presence. Get an idea what’s out there. Ask them what works, what doesn’t work, what they wish they hadn’t done, or what they wish they had done earlier. I’ve learned that there is a lot of collective wisdom out there so I would start with that.

The second thing would be to be very purposeful. Choose your twitter handle. Do you really want it to be your own name? What does it say about you? What does it say about your work? 

Another idea is to search for those key influencers. Look to see how many followers they have, and learn their patterns, so that you can structure your content and attract their retweets. Then think about developing your social media plan. Prepare tweets. Pilot them. 

We had a toolkit that we developed in my knowledge broker role for the Canadian cervical spine rule. We developed a video for it and we developed some templates of letters to write to physicians, and we sat down and we developed a very purposeful social media plan for a series of tweets over a period of six weeks. We prepared those messages in advance. We piloted them with 5-6 people and asked them ‘What do you think of this tweet?’ 

We looked at our analytics afterwards, and we found that during the time of the social media campaign we had a three-fold increase in access to the toolkit. And I think if you are not purposeful and you don’t monitor and you don’t learn, you’re just kind of hoping that it’s going to have an impact. But you can be much more purposeful about it and be able to strategize that impact and then measure that impact. 


Did you have any one with a Social media background advising you on that project?

People use social media in different ways. For example our Librarian at PABC was a key team member in this project. We also had people on our task force who are very engaged in social media in a different way than I would be as a knowledge broker. The librarian was engaged in a different way as well. I think that by having collective thoughts, you reach a wider spectrum if you include more diversity in who you include on the team.


Where can people follow you on Social Media and/or what are the top 5 “social media accounts” to follow? 

@PhysioKTBroker I am also on Linkedin and Research Gate.

[Who to follow] depends on your needs or can be anything from creating knowledge, to synthesizing knowledge, to disseminating knowledge, supporting its implementation, to evaluating it and then sustaining it. So it can be anywhere along that continuum: 

  1. To disseminate: journals, media, e.g. British journal of sports medicine
  2. Alerting general media: André Picard, Cardon health, health journalists in local newspapers
  3. Research message: key researchers in an area e.g. MSK, Neuro, 
  4. Clinicians: through CPA, APTA_tweets, Emma Stokes (president of WCPT)
  5. Patient orgs: Stroke paddler, ACE


How do you avoid the pitfalls of social media?

Making sure that you have separate accounts: personal and professional so that you don’t run into problems. Really think before you tweet. Plan it. 

Don’t worry. Learn and do something new.


So if you want to give social media a try for gathering and sharing information for your practice, you can start with following the CPA Division that you are a  member of (e.g. Pain Science @painphysioscan). Once you figure out who the leaders in your area of practice are, check out who they follow. You will slowly build up your network and start being exposed to many learning opportunities.

If you haven’t dabbled in social media yet, have we convinced you to give it a try? Check out how Chantal Lauzon got started on Twitter.

If you love this, check out the Physiotherapy Practice social media issue here.