#colorectalresearch: Introducing a Disruptive Technology for Academic Surgery in the Social Media Age

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Social media (SoMe) is a broad and evolving term that refers to Internet-based tools that allow individuals to develop communities; share information, ideas, personal messages, and images; and, in some cases, collaborate in real time.1,2 Participation in SoMe has increased sharply over the past decade and is pervasive across ages and professions globally.3 SoMe has several forms, including microblogs, of which Twitter (http://www.twitter.com) is the most prominent.4 Particular traction for Twitter occurred in health care, where physicians use the platform to enhance professional networking, education, patient care, and public health promotion through live tweeting at events, online journal clubs, transmission of news and research from peer-reviewed journals, collaborative groups, and professional societies.5,6 The rate of engagement for colorectal surgeons initially lagged behind other medical specialties, but interest and use are increasing rapidly.7,8 To support this engagement, the #colorectalsurgery hashtag was created by an international group of Twitter-active colorectal surgeons aiming to build a global colorectal surgery community. The distinct hashtag provided a clear online direction for users to access colorectal tweets of relevance9; #colorectalsurgery was launched as an online signpost to curate all aspects of colorectal surgery, including courses, education, social, news, and networking needs. Within 18 months, #colorectalsurgery grew to engage ≈5000 users and represent ≈50,000 linked tweets. In fact, the success of #colorectalsurgery began to undermine the academic aspirations of the hashtag. With increased engagement and growth of online users, the popularity made filtering quality research from the noise increasingly difficult. Users were anxious to tap into the success of the hashtag to raise visibility of tweets that promoted personal agendas, social gatherings, and other messages that lacked true #colorectalsurgery content. Although it was designed to help filter the infinite amount of information on the internet, #colorectalsurgery itself began to experience a similar problem in that uncontrolled twitter feeds can be overwhelming and complicate the search for knowledge. Thus, the need for a portal dedicated solely to academic colorectal endeavors was clear.
To meet this need, a new hashtag, #colorectalresearch, was created. #colorectalresearch was registered as a health hashtag to promote work from 4 high-impact colorectal surgery journals (Diseases of the Colon & Rectum, Colorectal Disease, the British Journal of Surgery, and Techniques in Coloproctology), in addition to other research content highlighted by participants. The new hashtag aims to deliver tweets linked to peer-reviewed research, separating it from the main Twitter stream and confounding content, and simply identifying these tweets with the hashtag. With #colorectalresearch, a new way of curating academic research has been created for a global audience. It provides focused access to the very best research in the field, in an immediate fashion, and encourages international collaboration. Whether the hashtag adds value by increasing the exposure and metrics of high-quality academic work and the impact factor of participating journals is yet to be evaluated.
As a repository of contemporary research, #colorectalresearch is a unique search tool that allows searches of the filtered content for research of specific interest to reviews or meta-analyses. To this end, D.S. Keller, M. Berho, S.D. Wexner and colleagues recently used #colorectalresearch in the search methodology of a review (D.S.K., unpublished data, October 2017); new research applications will certainly develop. Using the lessons learned from #colorectalsurgery, #colorectalresearch is being marketed by the major journals and users as a research-specific hashtag, thus mitigating some of the risks of overwhelming the channel with noise. Although hashtags cannot be formally regulated, users have followed and perpetuated the culture of this particular hashtag, which has been reinforced through retweets of appropriate content by the content editors.
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