How a hashtag changed my life!

March 27, 2012

A guest post by Dr. Alice Ackerman, one of the speakers at Social Slam 2012

It was a dark and stormy night….

… Actually, I have no idea what kind of night it was.  All I know is that my online life changed that night, and I didn’t even realize it was happening. For you to understand this story, I suppose I have to go back to the beginning so you know the importance of that night, and its impact on my social media presence.

I started my “Close To Home” blog in September of 2010. It took a long time to get it underway, as this is a blog that resides on my employer’s website (Carilion Clinic and Carilion Clinic Children’s Hospital). I started it to build trust and enhance visibility within the community for the services we provide in the Children’s Hospital.

Since I am the physician leader of the children’s hospital, I figured if folks in the community could get to know me through my blog I could become teacher and child advocate within the community, and my children’s hospital would embody my attitudes and dedication to children’s health; thus helping parents feel comfortable seeking care with us.

I was rather naïve in my approach. My writing was inappropriate for lay people to read, since until that time I had written almost exclusively for medical journals and textbooks. My 20-something daughter told me I could share my blog on Reddit, StumbleUpon  and similar sites in addition to my own personal pages on FaceBook and LinkedIn, to boost readership. I did that and rapidly got identified as a spammer on StumbleUpon and Reddit. A few of my FB and LI contacts went to the blog, but no one left comments. Slowly, over the first few months, readership of the blog grew and I was happy.

However, that winter, my stats fell, and it seemed like absolutely no one was reading my posts. In desperation, I started to read books on blogging. Almost all of them identified Twitter as the place to be to increase readership. Twitter???

OK, well I joined Twitter in the middle of May, sent my first tweet on May 18, and had no idea what else to do. Happily, Doch was hilft dir wirklich? Diese Frage wirst auch du dir sicherlich schon gestellt haben – besonders wahrend einer absoluten Pechstrahne am roulette online gratis tisch. I came upon Mark Schaefer’s  “The Tao of Twitter” by complete accident while browsing Amazon for help. Finally I had a concept of what I could do and started to follow folks strategically. I learned about hashtags, and started to pay attention to some of them.

Then, one summer evening, I came upon the hashtag #hcsmvax. I read some of the tweets—sweet! Here was a group of interested folks discussing ways to improve vaccination rates of children. These were real people with real experience and interests from a wide variety of perspectives. I participated in several of these chats. During one of them, one of my faithful readers, and a local twitter follower, saw my tweets, and decided to join, bringing the perspective of a parent, and someone who identified herself as a reluctant vaxxer, now pro-vaccine. When one of the tweet chat participants asked her “why” she changed, she said-“because I read Dr. Ackerman’s blog.”


We continued to discuss approaches to the anti-vaccine movement, and decided parents needed more information from someone they could trust, but never had time to ask their questions during a visit to the doctor’s office. This lead to the creation of a “vaccine town hall” that was held in the fall at our medical school. Four pediatricians (including myself) gave short presentations on various aspects of immunity and vaccines. We had a crowd of over 100 in attendance. We took questions from the audience. We live-tweeted our presentations and took queries via Twitter as well.

Since that time, I have seen more consistent activity on the blog site, more comments on my individual posts, and a general “buzz” about vaccines, child health and social media. I was interviewed by the local newspaper on how and why a doctor would use social media, or be involved with Twitter. I have many followers from traditional media, both local and national. My Klout score jumped, and fell, and now is settling out in the mid-to-upper 40’s.  My application to speak at Social Slam was accepted.

All because of an intriguing hashtag, interaction with interesting people I would never have met otherwise, involvement via social media and bringing the involvement into real life to benefit the community.

Have you experienced any sort of turning point in your social media existence? I would love to hear how your experience(s) changed your approach to social media or influenced your impact in real life.

I can”t wait to meet you at Social Slam!

Alice D. Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM, is Professor and Chair, Department of Pediatrics Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine


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  • Anonymous

    Alice…I am SO thrilled for the well deserved recognition that you have received on behalf of your efforts to inform the online world about pediatric health.  The story you share here about how social media and a simple hashtag could create change, influence and trends is powerful.  As a member of the healthcare community, I am SO very proud of your commitment, compassion and passion to get relevant and important information out there.  I wish that I could be there at Social Slam to support you and meet you!.  You are going to be AWESOME!!!! 

    • Alice Ackerman, MD,

      Claudia, Thank you so very much for the kind words. Still wish I lived in Chicago. I am not sure I DESERVE anything, but I feel so blessed that others are helping me to share some of the knowledge and information and passion about child health. I so appreciate your comments, and am glad you stopped by here to leave them.

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