Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier on tweeting

As the leader of a major healthcare organization — or any organization, for that matter — it can be difficult to decide when to keep your opinions private, or when to use your position to publicize important ideas.

This problem especially comes to play on social media, where it is all too easy for leaders to let their opinions fly with the touch of just a few keys. The beauty and the danger of these outlets is they allow leaders connect with individuals from every corner of the world. This can be abused — take Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli's Twitter feed for example — or used positively.

Jeffrey Flier, MD, PhD, grappled with this paradox of influence and power in a recent blog post for The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Flier says he personally uses his Twitter account — it is not managed by a communications team — to share ideas with his audience. The risk is many people take his opinions as those of Harvard Medical School, despite the "tweets are my own" distinction on his account.

"I always try to interject into official communications as many of my own ideas and views as possible, enabling the reader to glimpse the person behind the statement, at least to some degree. Since these statements are often seen as reflecting official school views, in addition to my own — and these need not always be identical — this is a delicate balancing act, requiring forethought, sensitivity and excellent advice from colleagues," Dr. Flier wrote.

However, Dr. Flier wrote that the benefits associated with letting 140-character tweets fly outweigh the risks. "I have a new way of communicating with interesting folks outside my normal circle, some of whom have become valuable Twitter friends or actual friends," he wrote.

"The ideas that I share with them have become a valuable part of my intellectual life."


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