Comprehensive analysis of Twitter usage during a major medical conference held virtually versus in-person

Insights Imaging. 2022 Jan 20;13(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s13244-021-01140-0.


Background: Twitter has become one of the most important social media platforms in science communication. During scientific conferences, Twitter can facilitate the communication between audience and speakers present at the venue and can extend the reach of a conference to participants following along from home. To examine whether Twitter activity can serve as a surrogate parameter for attendance at the RSNA conferences in 2019 and in 2020, and to characterize changes in topics discussed due to the virtual character of the 2020 RSNA conference.

Methods: The Twitter API and R Studio were used to analyze the absolute number and frequency of tweets, retweets, and conference-related hashtags during the 2019 and 2020 RSNA conference. Topics of discussion were compared across years by visualizing networks of co-occurring hashtags.

Results: There was a 46% decrease in total tweets and a 39% decrease in individual Twitter users in 2020, mirroring a 43% decrease in registered attendees during the virtual conference. Hashtags related to social initiatives in radiology (e.g., "#radxx" and "#womeninradiology" for promoting women's empowerment in radiology or "#pinksocks," "#weareradiology" and "#diversityisgenius" for diversity in general) were less frequently used in 2020 than in 2019.

Conclusion: Twitter and congress attendance were highly related and interpersonal topics underwent less discussion during the virtual meeting. Overall engagement during the virtual conference in 2020 was lower compared to the in-person conference in 2019.

Keywords: Medical conferences; RSNA; Science communication; Social media; Twitter.