Wednesday 3rd April 2013
Social media: networking and sharing for the internet age
Anil Arora and Carol Naylor from Macmillan’s Social Media team offer an introduction to using social media at work.
Social media is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. A video of a giggling child makes him an overnight celebrity, while Twitter effortlessly influences popular opinion - as many politicians and celebrities have found out to their detriment. In today’s world, people without a social media presence are occasionally regarded with the same kind of surprise as someone without a mobile phone.
In this environment, people can feel bewildered not only by new technologies, but also by the rate at which those technologies are evolving. Some have erred on the side of caution and avoided using social media because of the associated risks. Some, however, are doing what they can to embrace change and make it work for them.
What do we mean by social media?
Marketing experts Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as ‘a group of internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content.’1
In short, social media is a way for people to connect online; an evolution and scaling up of bulletin boards. It focuses on: what users produce, be it short messages, pictures or videos; how content is shared; and how users interact with each other. It is networking and sharing for the internet age.
When you start to use social media as a health or social care professional, one of the most important but overlooked steps is finding out what your organisation’s social media policy is. Ultimately, it will be this that dictates what you can and cannot do as a professional representative of your organisation. If you find your organisation doesn’t have any guidelines, perhaps now would be a good time to encourage the creation of a forward-thinking policy? Even if your social media policy does turn out to be a bit restrictive, you may find this guide helpful for your professional or personal networking.
What are the benefits of using social media?
People in the UK visit social networking sites more often than they use search engines. The social media audience is active, hungry for information and eager to connect with others.
For health and social care professionals, social media can offer prompt, effective communication between colleagues and patients. Searches for cancer can bring up exchanges between patients or people’s experiences of any given cancer type. Social media permits you to engage with patients and ask them what they think of services and policies.
Networking between fellow professionals or members of professional bodies is far easier through social networking channels than email lists. Not only can you build and enhance your own reputation through sites such as LinkedIn, you can use your increased contacts base for knowledge sharing.
Macmillan Project Lead Dietitian Debbie Provan says, ‘I use LinkedIn professionally. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) has a members-only group on it and on Facebook, both of which I use - it seems to work quite well for continuing professional development and networking. The BDA also supports a monthly Twitter chat facilitated and led by a few dietitians. There is also a hash tag on Twitter that is good (#nhssm) and they have a Twitter chat every week about the role of social media in healthcare. Sometimes it’s really good.’
Macmillan currently uses its social media presence not only to fundraise, and promote large events and national campaigns, but also to promote local services for people affected by cancer. You can help us spread the word, get involved and be a part of the team by ‘following’ @macmillancancer on Twitter and ‘liking’ Macmillan on Facebook.
Friendly, easy and flexible
Other benefits of using social media include:
-You control access - you decide what’s said and when. You don’t have to rely on marketing or the press if your organisation is social media friendly.
- It's easy - very little technical skill is needed.
- It’s flexible - it can take up as much or as little time as you want, as long as you use it consistently and don’t ignore questions or negative comments.
The main networks
The most prolific social network, Facebook, allows users to create personal profiles and ‘friend’ others, placing them into lists defined by one’s personal connections. Instead of ’profiles’, brands and public figures often operate as ’pages’ geared towards interacting with far higher numbers of users without the privacy implications of adding strangers as friends to a personal profile. Facebook tends to be reserved for one’s personal life and we generally recommend that people use a Facebook profile for this purpose rather than for professional networking.
This online ‘microblogging’ service allows users to send short (140 character) posts referred to as tweets. Once you register for a profile, you can follow other users who interest you and in return be ‘followed’. However, you are in no way obliged to ‘follow back’ someone who follows you, especially if they’re a commercial interest. You should return ’follows’ at your own discretion. Conversations are directed by usernames and are public to varying degrees. Profiles can be viewed by unregistered users and while the option exists to lock profiles, it rarely happens. This means that nearly everything on Twitter is publicly visible. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Twitter is one of the best ways to engage with new supporters and people of similar interest.
LinkedIn focuses on professional networking. Typically, users upload their resumés and form connections with other users they may know from their working life or with people they wish to network with. It’s often used to find jobs or opportunities via networking or to form special interest groups (there’s even a Mac Voice group). It’s a useful tool for health and social care professionals, as it allows you to link with others in similar roles and form groups for services on offer. You also have the option for status updates, which is a great way to let your networks know what’s going on.
focuses on professional networking. Typically, users upload their resumés and form connections with other users they may know from their working life or with people they wish to network with. It’s often used to find jobs or opportunities via networking or to form special interest groups (there’s even a Mac Voice group). It’s a useful tool for health and social care professionals, as it allows you to link with others in similar roles and form groups for services on offer. You also have the option for status updates, which is a great way to let your networks know what’s going on.
Owned by Google, Youtube is the most popular video-sharing website in the world, with a focus on user-created content. Macmillan’s Youtube channel is a great source for cancer information videos, as well as videos about Macmillan professionals, fundraising and patient stories.
Macmillan’s Online Community is a place for people affected by cancer to ask questions, campaign for change or let off steam. It has spaces for people with cancer, carers, family members and supporters. It also has a strong blogging community with more than 1,000 active bloggers and the chatroom that is always open. We welcome input from health and social care professionals into our community, especially those interested in blogging. We’d also appreciate you recommending our online community as well as any support options you’d normally recommend.
Concerns from professionals
The two major concerns highlighted by health and social care professionals are: patient confidentiality, especially in light of disciplinary action against medical professionals as a result of conduct on social media; and personal privacy.
You should never discuss the details of any interactions with patients online. While you can discuss ‘lessons learned’ in a general fashion, you should never discuss anything that could identify someone. Once again, we’d recommend familiarising yourself with your organisation’s policy, as there may be legal and professional repercussions. You should also carefully read all guidance covering codes of conduct as set out by professional bodies relevant to your particular health profession, such as the Health and Care Professions Council.
Privacy is an issue for anyone sharing content online, regardless of their profession. Contact with patients who may be vulnerable can only complicate this even further.
A sensible approach is to use Facebook for private content and Twitter for public interaction. Certainly, we wouldn’t recommend using your own personal Facebook profile for interaction with patients. If you do need to use Facebook for public interaction, we’d advise setting up a company page on behalf of your organisation. Those interested can then ‘like’ the page instead of ‘friending’. Failing that, you can set up a work focused profile, but be aware you may be in violation of Facebook’s guidelines.
You should also make sure the settings on each site are set to ‘high‘ if you’re sharing personal content. The privacy settings are usually under the ‘settings’ menu. Facebook’s is under the top right dropdown arrow. While this makes it harder for potential friends to find you, it does limit what patients can see. That said, even with the most secure account, you should not forget that many people can still see your updates and always respect confidentiality, even when only one other person can see your posts.
Sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter are geared towards public networking, and as long as you exercise common sense, you can interact safely. Be careful of spammers and protect your passwords and account information.
Debbie Brown says, ‘With regards to Twitter, I don’t link myself to any one organisation, but you can probably guess who I work for by quickly searching the net and reviewing who I follow. Obviously, it is also quite hard to control who follows you and sometimes that might not reflect well, but I don’t think there is much you can do other than carefully choose who you follow. With LinkedIn, I try to be careful who I add as a friend, and I say I work for the NHS but do not specify which health board; but I know many others openly list their employer and their role.’
It is up to you to decide how much you want to disclose. See the case study below for more on protecting your privacy.
Dr Russ Hargreaves is the Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Manager at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust.
‘Unless they’ve been living on another planet, most people will have heard of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Tweeting is one of the most powerful communication tools I have come across and offers the possibility of immediate, real-time involvement with your colleagues, service users and followers.
‘Twitter and Facebook enable us to keep in touch and form groups with other like-minded people. Thinking about the world of cancer, they offer a unique opportunity for people, globally, to meet in a virtual space and swap stories, hints, tips and feelings. If you’ve just been diagnosed with a rare cancer, chances are, you’re unlikely to find a ready-made support group on your doorstep. But a 10-second search of Twitter for ‘sarcoma’ brings up hundreds of news items, patient stories and a real sense of community at the click of a button.
‘However, there are some key things to look out for in the world of social media. For a short time, I had a personal Facebook account for announcements, posting updates and photographs for friends and family, rekindling old relationships and staying in touch like never before. Then, one day, during a counselling session, a client said, "I didn’t realise you had kids!" I was horrified. He had somehow seen my Facebook pages, which I had thought completely private, available only to those I had accepted as ‘friends’. I immediately decided that it was too risky to expose my private life to the public. It also interfered with the professional relationship I had with this particular patient. I took the pages down immediately and won’t be returning.
‘I therefore decided to open a Twitter account and made the decision to use this only for professional purposes. I use the Twitter name @CancerRuss. Some may find this offensive, but I wanted it to be absolutely clear that this account was to be used solely for finding and disseminating information about cancer. I follow a range of health organisations and have to admit I have come across news and events that I don’t believe I would have known about had it not been for Twitter.
‘My own NHS Trust tends to tweet long before it makes announcements to staff and it has certainly helped me to raise the profile of the Macmillan centre within the Trust and beyond. The beauty of Twitter is that you can make announcements to your ‘followers’ and the feedback is immediate. You might want to carry out an incredibly quick straw poll – ‘What do you make of the new NHS guidelines on skin cancer treatment?’ – or announce an event – ‘Anybody fancy meeting up for impromptu support group this Wednesday?’ The possibilities are endless and the more you publicise your account, the more followers you get, thus widening the spread of your message. You don’t have to be a bard either. If you make a little mistake or can’t quite get your message across, it’s not the end of the world – just try again tomorrow.
‘I also access Twitter on my commute home from work and can quickly read about the very latest advances in the world of cancer through the BBC, Reuters and various oncology journals. I even feel more connected to Macmillan by following Ciarán Devane and the Cancer Information Team.
I hear about fundraising events and can show my support for Macmillan through online polls and petitions.’
Russ covered some really great points that we’d like to expand on.
Personal versus private
The most common question we get asked is: how do you balance your personal and private life online?
The answer is: it depends. Each person has what works for them and their objectives, and there’s no right or wrong answer. This is a bit of a strange answer for a best practice section, but it remains true all the same. Some choose to maintain entirely separate personal/private accounts, with topics restricted accordingly. If you’re acting as a representative of your organisation, that’s probably best. But you can be professional while slipping in the odd human comment here and there. Often, people choose to maintain a private Facebook account and a public Twitter account that combines work and engaging with friends, and so on. With social media, you have to give a little to get a little when it comes to engagement, and the more interesting and well rounded you are, the more people will respond. Where you feel comfortable, of course, remains up to you.
What makes for good content? Try to judge what your followers will find interesting and elaborate on it. If you’re talking about a cancer centre, it’s simple enough to include a picture. You can even do location-based updates if you’re there. Questions are always a great way to trigger a conversation and engage with your followers. For example, you could ask, ‘What improvements to a service would you like to see?’ Re-tweeting useful information from other people helps you to be regarded as a good judge and source of information. It also gives you an opportunity to connect with the people you re-tweet since they will appreciate the additional exposure you have given them.
The impact of social media
Social media statistics have become almost unimaginably large. As of April 2012, Facebook was on its way to a billion users, 31% of whom visit the site more than once a day. It generates over a quarter of all internet traffic. Twitter has 500 million registered users generating 175 million tweets each day. LinkedIn currently has 135 million users, with over 2 million active companies.
- Familiarise yourself with your organisation’s policies and discuss your goals with your line manager.
- Decide what your objectives are, even if it’s just to try something new.
- There’s no true anonymity on the internet, so always respect patient confidentiality.
- Update your networks regularly and respond to queries in a timely manner.
- Avoid using social media as a soapbox to air grievances. Whatever you write may be accessible for a long time, even if deleted.
- Spend time to see what similar audiences are discussing.
- Try to be interesting and provide useful information.
- Be succinct and respect the limitations of each platform.
- Be transparent and honest - never misrepresent yourself or your intentions.
- Try to be human, even if you’re tweeting as an organisation or representative.
- Engagement is the key to success; have conversations with, not at people.
- Try to connect with people in a strategic fashion rather than just following or friending anyone.
- Avoid updating your networks while affected by negative emotions.
Hopefully, by now you’ll be more inclined to give social media a go or increase the amount of time and focus you give it. With social media, it's a case of you get out what you put in – so take the time to build your connections and content.
Once again, we’d also like to remind you to familiarise yourself with your organisation’s policies and the privacy settings on all the social media sites that you use. You should only operate within the limits of what you find comfortable and with a heavy dose of common sense. Good luck and have fun.
1. Kaplan AM and Haenlein M. Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons. 2010. 53(1): 59-68.
The Change Foundation. Using social media to improve healthcare quality. A guide to current practice and future promise. June 2011. (Accessed at www.changefoundation.ca/docs/socialmediatoolkit.pdf)
Claudia Megele. Social care in the e-professionalism era. April 2012. (Accessed at www.guardian.co.uk/social-care-network/2012/apr/25/eprofessionalismsocial-care)
Nursing and Midwifery Council. Social networking sites. 2011. (Accessed at http://www.nmc-uk.org/social-networking-advice)