Dipping your toe in the social media water
by Karen Middleton, Chief Executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
I hate to sound ageist but let’s face it, if you’re under the age of 30 you cannot imagine a life without social media! I am of the age (50) that still recalls life without a mobile phone and where letters were the common currency and not the exception to the rule – how lovely it is to occasionally receive a hand-written note!
I very quickly saw, however, that the use of social media can really help ‘connectedness’ and the feeling of belonging and was amazed that my step-children would describe as ‘friends’ people they had never met but were in constant contact with via Facebook or Twitter. I also saw how it could be used to provide instant feedback to services, shops and the NHS.
At the Department of Health in England, there was understandable nervousness about the use of social media, but as Chief Health Professions Officer with a bit of ‘Just do it’ attitude and a Communications Manager who was very keen on the benefits of social media, I started to use Twitter. Very tentatively at first and mainly through observing how others used it rather than writing myself – and then I got hooked!
At the same time as I started to use Twitter, the NHS started a major reorganisation following the Health and Social Care Bill/Act. Structures were changing; organisations disappeared; new ones came into being; established networks shifted and morphed. In the allied health world, communication across twelve professions and all their specialties, across all sectors and care groups is very difficult and I had worked hard to create a professional network across the 86,000 AHPs in England – and suddenly those networks were in danger of disappearing.
I used – and use – Twitter to stay in touch; to retain and develop that sense of belonging; to encourage an identity, an offer and to keep communication channels open.
As my post moved to NHS England, with the change in email address and location, I retained my networks – and I still do at the CSP. That’s through Twitter. I was also freer to directly ask my followers about what they thought about what I was doing or get immediate answers to questions I was dealing with in meetings – it is such a responsive medium! And of course, as our professional networks shifted and communication channels were lost, I somehow managed to retain my links.
Of course, great care is needed, both in terms of what you say through social media and in the judgements you make about the information you receive – but isn’t that true about any form of communication? It certainly helped to focus my message and be brief!
The potential is huge – if coups can happen and elections be won as a result of social media, then the allied health professions can use it to instil the sense of a social movement! We can use it to collaborate and to share knowledge and we can use it to help us integrate. As we all move closer to integration between health and social care, new and different modes of communication will be necessary because simply finding the new networks and channels of communication will be difficult. Using Twitter and Facebook can help – not the sole answer, I know, but certainly through transition, you will find it really useful.
Try it. Dip your toe in the social media water – and, if you need help, ask a teenager!