#SocialMedia + #SportsMedicine = #PerfectMatch

Sheree Bekker

Sheree Bekker, ACRISP

The power of social media in our field, the field of sports medicine — it has been something I have written about from time to time.  It’s something I have lectured about, too, on several occasions:  at American College of Sports Medicine(ACSM) meetings as well as at a recent National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) meeting.

I think there are, indisputably, a number of reasons someone in our field should get on Twitter, or should identify a blog or podcast to follow…..Among those reasons: i) there exists an extraordinarily flexible, responsive, and timely method of staying abreast of ‘breaking’ news in our world; ii) there is a unique way of curating the research one cares about; and iii) there is the ability to have conversations and network with peers from around the globe.  No limits in space and time to the #SportsMedicine community that exists on #SocialMedia channels.

All that said, I also think Social Media does not exist apart from ‘real relationships’.  That is, in my judgment, the relationships formed in Social Media are grounded in the chance that they can be made physically real.  Social Media alone will not replace a handshake, or a face-to-face conversation at a conference. But Social Media can be that introductory acquaintance that can blossom into a more collaborative relationship when two colleagues finally meet.

Sheree Bekker — aka @ACRISPFedUni [The Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention], aka @shereebekker — represents, for me, precisely that sort of person, that sort of relationship  I first made her acquaitnace via her Twitter feeds. Then I was blown away by a  blog post she authored after her participation in a Mayo Clinic Healthcare and Social Media Summit in Australia.  And, finally, I met her.  The ‘real’ her, and not a Twitter avatar! Turns out that Sheree is originally from Botswana, and she was in southern Africa for a visit home and a swing through the South African Sports Medicine Association meeting in Johannesburg (SASMA2015) which I recently attended, as well.  From “Learners to Leaders,” that was the theme of SASMA2015; those of you who follow this blog know full well what a smashing success that conference was.

When Sheree came up to introduce herself to me in Johannesburg, well, it was like meeting an old friend.  And rather quickly, we decided we needed to do a joint blog post about Social Media and its place in the Sports Medicine world.

In the spirit of collaboration, here is Sheree, to talk more about how, in particular, Social Media can play a role in turning “Learners” into “Leaders.”


Sheree Bekker: It is no secret that I am a big fan of slightly obsessed with the opportunity that social media affords emerging researchers to cultivate a voice in their field. I first shared my story of how I landed my international PhD scholarship through a Twitter connection in ‘Why you should use Twitter during your PhD’, and mused about how social media may play an even larger role in our academic careers than we realize (as an aside, today I would say: social media does play a large role in our careers – whether we want it to or not, whether we engage or not – this will become evident as you read on). I received an overwhelming response from post-graduate researchers on this post – and it soon became obvious that the common theme in these responses was that it was the sense of community and connection that draws people to social media. I also learned that those of us working in sports medicine are indeed very lucky, as our field has been an early and enthusiastic adopter of social media – and it can be disheartening for people in other fields to join the conversation eagerly, only to find that ‘I am stuck in a Twitter-desert, help!

Personally, as a current ‘learner’, I have found that Twitter has been invaluable in facilitating connections. One of the SASMA2015 sessions discussed the concept of ‘building a network’, which can often be highly intimidating for emerging researchers to do. How do I approach someone whose work I admire? What will we talk about?

Social media is a powerful medium for an emerging researcher to cultivate initial connections without the intimidation of hard networking. If you are meaningfully engaging in the conversation in your field, or at the conference using the hashtag, people will generally be genuinely excited about putting a face to the avatar – as the example of Jim and I meeting at SASMA2015, and now writing this blog post together, illustrates.

The key to social media is always to add value to the conversation. If you are anything like me, after the initial Twitter learning curve and a little lurking to scope out the scene, it is usually easier to add value on social media because you can think about/plan what you want to say first. In this way, people get to know you first through your curated social media presence – such what your research interests are, as Jim said. It doesn’t hurt to share a little about your personality in the process too. Academics are humans too.

In fact, in my experience, social media uniquely showcases the human side of academia. It lies at the opposite end of the spectrum to published research in that it is not polished perfect, and it is opinionated (Shock! Horror! Bias! What happened to objectivity?). I have heard more than a few academics remark that they often find more relevant information through their social media networks than they do through traditional academic platforms. I liken this to the difference between conference presentations and tea-time chats at conferences: academics often get more out of the socializing networking around the conference than they do out of the conference program itself. Add the backchannel conversation that is happening, in real-time, on conference Twitter hashtags during the conference itself, and you have found yourself in the sweet spot of the insider information highway: who the connectors are, what other people’s opinions of the presentations are, who could not attend and is weighing in remotely…you get the picture.

Social media is the backchannel of insider information that we, emerging academics as ‘learners’, are often not privy to in the hallowed halls of academia. This insight and tacit knowledge shared in the broader, ongoing conversation on social media is incredibly valuable for the next wave of ‘leaders’, not only to see, but more importantly to join in as well. Let’s not underestimate its power as a platform for open debate, honest conversations, and community support. The backchannel is often thought-provoking, and always helpful, when forming your own opinions, ideas, and voice. Social media is a connector as well a conversation where our voices can, and do, add value.

It has been my view for some time now that you need to own your online presence – if you don’t curate your own online profile, someone else will do so for you. We need to remember that, as researchers, attention will be on our work through social media whether we want it to or not (for evidence of this check the altmetrics scores of your journal papers). Taking ownership of the communication of your research is key. Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.

Your online presence cannot be avoided, and it is not just about personal branding anymore – it has evolved to mean more than that. Don’t worry about professional and personal personas, just be yourself!


Thank you Sheree.  I look forward to seeing you on Twitter, on the blogs, and at future meetings!

About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

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