How not to waste time when tweeting at #RCGPAC

In February 2019 the founder of Twitter - Jack Dorsey - held a tweet chat. The resulting tweeting was so difficult to follow that one technology journalist wrote that it was impossible to follow conversations on Twitter.

Dr Graham Mackenzie
Dr Graham Mackenzie

The reasons for the jumble of tweets relate to tweeting behaviours that are commonly observed in tweet chats including conference tweeting.

By deciding to tweet at a conference we are impacting on our ability to listen to the conference presentations and interact in the real world eg speaking to fellow delegates at conference coffee breaks. As has been highlighted frequently at the conference, a GP’s time is precious, so we need to optimise the way we use Twitter.

Use the #RCGPAC hashtag

There has been a concerted effort during the 2019 RCGP Annual Conference to maximise the impact of tweets, for example by using the #RCGPAC hashtag. One of the quirks of RCGPAC tweeting is that the conference organiser’s Twitter handle (username) – @RCGPAC – shares its spelling with the hashtag. This contrasts with many other conferences where the hashtag uses a year or other identifier (eg location) for each year.

The common spelling between handle and hashtag potentially aids in the search for stray tweets. As documented previously on there has been plenty of tweeting using the conference handle (@RCGPAC) rather than the hashtag (#RCGPAC).

Twitter is very specific in how it sorts and searches for tweets. For example, a search for #RCGPAC will not identify tweets that use the handle instead or that add the year after the hashtag (eg #RCGPAC19 or #RCGPAC2019). Nonetheless, tweets that use the #RCGPAC hashtag or that mention or reply to the conference organiser will turn up in a search for ‘rcgpac’ without the preceding symbol, and this has helped identify hundreds of tweets that would have been missed using the hashtag alone, as documented in my ongoing Wakelet summary of the conference.

That tweet about 15-minute consultations

The approach of using a generic search term to pick up both the hashtag and handle will miss replies that did not include @RCGPAC. The attached figure (see below) shows the extensive replying and quoting(1) that goes on in tweeting around popular or controversial topics – in this case a tweet about 15-minute consultations.

Exploring this tweet, clicking into replies, and searching for tweets that quote other posts in this dialogue(2), identified 23 responses, of which seven were quoting tweets (marked with quotation marks in red in the figure) and three used the conference hashtag (marked with # symbol in red). The rest of these tweets would be invisible in a search for the conference hashtag. Furthermore, the tweeter whose posts are quoted would not consistently receive a notification of this relationship. Twitter itself records just 4 replies to the original tweet (bottom left of original tweet); the reality is over 5 times this figure.

Tweet struck a chord with #RCGPAC delegates

Jonathan Griffiths’s original tweet was unusual in receiving so many replies. It struck a chord with conference delegates and people who did not appear to have been at the conference. Documenting the interactions beyond the hashtag is time consuming and would not be feasible for the full conference. Nonetheless, the analysis of responses to this specific tweet has provided an example of the sometimes extensive "invisible" tweeting that goes on at a conference. In contrast to the branching structure identified in the extended analysis, Twitter shows only linear relationships. There is not currently a way to display the true extent of the relationships in real-time.

Searches for a conference hashtag will only ever produce an incomplete extract of all the social media activity around that event. People mentioned or replied to in these tweet exchanges will receive notifications of further replies, but other tweeters will only see these tweets if they follow both the tweeter and the addressee, or if they click often several layers of tweets. This would be unrealistic for most conference delegates.

Why do we tweet?

Motivations for tweeting will vary. Some delegates will tweet so that they have a record for their CPD return; others will be looking for discussion or corroboration of their viewpoint; others will be disseminators, sharing content that they have found useful by retweeting, with or without further comments of their own. Regardless, tweets that cannot be found easily, without further button presses or more intricate searches, will typically have less impact than a straightforward tweet using the hashtag, and this represents an opportunity cost for the individual posting the tweet and the potential audience.

On a related topic, it is worth highlighting that a search for #RCGPAC will not find tweets that use #RCGPAC19. As a result, tweets using #RCGPAC19 or #RCGP2019 are considerably less likely to be retweeted than tweets using the official hashtag. Searching for these terms specifically, around 7% of tweets on 24 October used an alternative hashtag.

Retweeting with a comment

In summary, use the official hashtag #RCGPAC in any tweet or reply about the conference. Given the inconsistent nature of ‘quoting tweets’, if you do choose to retweet with a comment, make sure that you mention the original tweeter’s name in your post and add the hashtag. These tweets will be more difficult to find and place in context, so balance up whether you would be best posting an original tweet, reply or quoting tweet.

(1) ‘Quoting’ is accessed by clicking the retweet button in Twitter and then selecting the option to add comment of your own. This addition of further content makes a ‘quoting tweet’ operate more like an original tweet.

(2) Quoting tweets are found by searching for the URL of the tweet after knocking off the preceding "http://www." eg "")

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