Have you noticed that social media has moved far beyond its early roots in online dating, role-playing games and helping people find their old high-school classmates?
In fact, Facebook reports that it now has 750 million users worldwide, more than double the population of the United States and Canada combined. According to the independent site checkfacebook.com, there are more than 155 million Facebook accounts in the United States alone.
Twitter, meanwhile, has 200 million registered users, and twice that many people visit the site each month.
Schools, churches, corporations and other entities are blogging, tweeting and using a variety of other social media outlets. Clearly, social media has become mainstream. In the process, the expectation that nonprofit organizations and their for-profit counterparts will use these platforms to engage their members and customers has become firmly entrenched. The AAFP is no exception.
The Academy has been using Facebook and Twitter to engage with members on a somewhat limited basis for a number of years, but the leaders of the AAFP have waited and watched to see how this relatively new phenomenon has been used by leaders in other settings before committing to using social media to communicate directly with Academy members. But now, the AAFP leadership has reached its tipping point and is ready to join the social media revolution.
During the recent Congress of Delegates and Scientific Assembly in Orlando, Fla., AAFP President Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., of Spokane, Wash., became the first Academy leader to use a new Twitter handle, @aafpprez, set up for the president of the AAFP. In addition, Stream worked with staff members to launch a new "AAFP President" Facebook page. Finally, he began communicating with members via the new AAFP Leader Voices blog. Stream noted that the purpose of launching all of these social media avenues through which leaders can communicate is to provide members with more insight into the Academy's actions and more avenues to respond to those actions.
And some members have indicated an interest in opening those channels of communication. A recent member survey found that 56 percent of respondents felt AAFP leaders are responsive to their needs; the same percentage said that the Academy takes member input into account when making organizational decisions.
Although both statistics reflect a majority of members who have favorable impressions of the AAFP, it's obvious a large number of family physicians would like more communication and more opportunities to provide input.
According to one survey respondent, his opinion about Academy policy has "fallen on deaf ears."
"I feel that a very few people are making decisions for a very large group without input," the member wrote.
During his Sept. 14 installation speech in Orlando, Stream said he is committed to improving communication with members, who were quick to respond to the announcement of his new Twitter account. He had 25 new followers within 30 minutes of his speech.
Within a week of starting the account, Stream had more than 130 Twitter followers -- not that this is a popularity contest -- and he continues to use Twitter to provide members with immediate and transparent information about what he is doing on their behalf. But just as important, these expanded social media channels allow members to respond to what the Academy's leaders are doing and provide information about how those actions affect their practices.
In his first eight days in the "Twitterverse," Stream tweeted 18 times, covering a variety of topics, including the Congress of Delegates, election results, the Assembly's Opening Ceremony, and various meetings and functions he attended at Assembly.
Going forward, these social media channels will provide real-time updates when the AAFP president is testifying before Congress, meeting with state chapters or performing other important functions that members should know about.
Stream -- and other Academy leaders -- will be reaching out to members through the leadership blog, as well. Although Twitter limits users to 140 words, the blog creates a place for AAFP leaders to provide greater detail about Academy actions, policies and events. It also offers another opportunity for members to provide insight into their own experiences through their comments.
As Stream said in his first blog post, "Let the conversation begin."