I am getting old! I see no point in Facebook and the random invitations to join LinkedIn simply annoy me; if I want to contact a friend I will phone them or email them (of course I am not so old that I would write a letter). My email address is in the public domain and my friends, colleagues or previous acquaintances can contact me if they want to and I can do the same with them. Yet this year at BEVA congress while others were twittering, I tweeted  - so what changed?


My Twitter 'epiphany' came when a colleague, Dr Liz Mossop (@mossposs), at the University of Nottingham asked me to run a revision session for our final year students about to sit finals using Twitter. She organised everything and got students to follow the session in the school using the #vetfinals hash-tag. This allows users to search for the bits of twitter they are looking for. I posed questions around clinical scenarios and the students answered - I had done some simple preparation so had some links to images, papers etc ready to cut and paste into my answers as appropriate using bitmarks (bitly.com). The session turned into a very fluid and rapid discussion and enabled full interaction. It was novel, it was fun and could be undertaken with a nice bottle of red wine. We all needed to be aware that anyone could watch, listen and even contribute to our discussion, especially if they searched for the #vetfinals hash-tag, but @mossposs had created some simple rules in advance and 'what-if's' to ensure we all behaved professionally. There are other systems that are less open (such as Yammer) that I might use for more controversial discussions, or to allow students to interact in a safer environment, but Twitter worked well, without any difficult questions.


Understanding how I could use Twitter for teaching made me more interested. I started following people and followed a series of tweets from an educational conference attended by @mossposs and others. Their short messages let me know what was being discussed, sometimes they included links to further information, and I gained enormously from their tweets. I thought this would be useful at #BEVA2012 and convinced our overworked Chief Executive to place a large screen in the registration area to follow the tweets. I had hoped it would help delegates decide which session to attend, or even which session they would want to watch via the Pfizer Encore Room, or online after the conference.


One of my most memorable sessions at congress was by Tony Pease, who described how to obtain a CSF sample from the cervical region in the standing horse. This session was great because it will turn a complicated procedure requiring lots of luck, and a little skill, into a practical procedure that can be done in the field. Attendance was good, but I tweeted about it at the time, and after the meeting because it was so novel and exciting, and I hoped people who missed it would want to watch it again. In the #firingdebate, I had hoped that it would offer an opportunity for others to comment on what was being discussed, almost before the Q&A session. It might be useful to guide the chair to discuss particular sessions, however in the end it was just me and one other person and we shared similar views, so provided little benefit this year.


In the end I was surprising how few people contributed to the discussion on Twitter considering @BEVA_news has 460 followers. It did not surprise one users who tweeted 'not really a surprise not many twitterers, most of them think an iPad is a type of bandage used to protect the orbit'. Obviously we have no idea who has seen the messages, and that is the one limitation of twitter. I know my 'followers' will see my comments, and we had students, vets and exhibitors commenting using the #BEVA2012 hashtag, so it did generate some discussion, just less than I would have hoped.


I will continue to promote this tool for developing engagement with congress (#BEVA2013). I hope it will promote BEVA to the next generation of veterinary surgeons and encourage them to join and attend. I believe it will increase my own profile within the profession (it has already generated one referral the day after congress). Members might want to consider using it to generate excitement around your latest recruit, the new ultrasound you purchased at #BEVA2012 from @BCFtechnology, or any special promotions to your clients. We can use conference tweeting for more than communication between professionals; it provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate that we are aware and understand the latest discoveries to our clients, to promote ourselves and our profession as cutting edge, rather than out-of-touch. Best of all, it is free and being only 140 characters, its quick to read and (with practice) quick to write.


So yes, I have been converted (in some ways) to the use of Social media; not to talk about myself and my hangovers at congress, but to share ideas and interests, pose questions and highlight relevant information that informs my students, referring vets and their clients about the latest treatments and diagnosis. If you are interested you can follow any of the discussions mentioned here by searching for the relevant hashtags to see how Twitter can be used. Follow @BEVA_news to keep up to date with the important aspects of the equine industry. If you want to know more about tweeting at conferences, including the basics of using Twitter then @mossposs has a great article that can be viewed using the following link http://j.mp/V8gnY2. Please join the debate in #BEVA2013.


Mark Bowen @MarkBowen_uon

(BEVA Council)