The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) is losing a tomato fight on social media right now, and it’s mesmerising – in a <headdesk>  kind of way – to watch.

The Australian newspaper reported this weekend that RANZCOG’S Victorian and Tasmanian branch was planning to hold a debate at its scientific meeting next month on the topic, ““Membership ­before maternity leave: should every registrar have a Mirena?” (Mirena is a brand of IUD; registrars are doctors training to be specialists.)

The internet was there immediately. On Twitter, the Australian medical bloggers @ketaminh, @dr_ashwitt, @drnikkistamp and @DrEricLevi, whose followers add to almost 20,000, began marvelling collectively. Initially at how anyone could think trainees’ reproductive rights were a suitable topic for a 40-minute debate, but very quickly, and in some amazement, at how RANZCOG was flubbing its own response. I have every sympathy for RANZCOG’s president, Professor Michael Permezel. It can’t be fun when your new year slithers in with a mess you’re not responsible for (RANZCOG won’t have chosen, or vetted, the conference agenda of a regional branch). Professor Permezel described the topic to The Australian newspaper as “in bad taste;” the Australian reports that RANZCOG is, in the President’s view, “the most progressive of the specialisation colleges.”  But defending yourself to a reporter isn’t effective if you’re simultaneously being hung out to dry on Twitter. If RANZCOG wants to take control of the message, it needs to turn to the medium where the debate’s taking

How did RANZCOG respond on social media? As Eric Levi points out in a long, thoughtful blog post on the dangers of not being on social media, badly. One of the rules of internet branding is to stake out an online presence to prevent anyone else defining you. But the College’s Facebook page was merged over the weekend with its Wikipedia entry. (Not smart, guys: anyone can edit you.) And the Twitter accounts @RANZCOG and @PermezelMichael were claimed, not by the College or its president, but by satirists seizing the moment. Generously, the @RANZCOG account was then given to the College, but it doesn’t appear to have made much use of it: in the last 20 hours, @RANZCOG has tweeted, rather obliquely, to say that it “supports the reproductive choices of all women, including its trainees.” And it’s tweeted about the importance of vitamins and minerals in pregnancy, and about maternal mental health. The College’s webpage is unchanged.

Honestly, it’s not difficult. Here are five suggestions.

  1. Go where the story is. (It’s not in The Australian. It’s online.)
  2. Stay with the story. (I wouldn’t like to spend the first weekend of my New Year dodging grenades, either, but you can’t check out of the narrative by telling The Australian you’ll call the Tasmanians on Monday to find out what’s going on).
  3. Respond in 140 characters or less. (I hope this means distancing yourself from whoever wrote the conference agenda, but, whatever the message, get it out there. Concisely.)
  4. Stay on message. (Less about vitamins, post-Caesarean section driving and maternal mental health, at least for now.)
  5. Engage. One tweet saying, “This sounds extraordinary – I’ll look into it” would go a long way. 

As it is, though, the story is evolving, and I think it’s got away from you.

AuthorNicola Rowe