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WHY SOCIAL NETWORKING CAN BE OF BENEFIT TO NURSES AND PATIENTS Patients are using social media to discuss health. This is either in a passive way (mentioning illness from time to time, talking about experiences in hospital or asking how to get to a hospital for example) or it can be in an active way (joining in health-based chats, utilising social media to help them learn more about their condition). Social media should always complement the information given

to patients. This can take the form of a chat or forum for patients to discuss their condition, or a critique network like YouTube to make the information sharable and easier to understand. Creating a regional, national or worldwide chat for people with a

condition or who are recovering from an accident could help nurses gain a better understanding of nursing practice for the patient (what happened, how the patient felt, how it could be improved) and also help patients better understand their condition. Personal patient engagement via social media will always be an issue. Setting up a chat for a broader range of patients and by

‘A lot of professionals use social media to talk to others in a similar role about topics that affect their profession’

using an official account linked to the chat or a healthcare organisation can help mitigate this issue by placing it in an official setting. Learning the culture of the chosen network (is it informal, how are questions asked, do you need permission from a moderator to post comments?) also enables nurses to fit into the wider group. Of course this isn’t the only way that nurses could be using

social media. A lot of professionals use social media to talk to others in a similar role about topics that affect their profession. Nursing is no exception and #nhssm and #nurchat are two chats on Twitter that help with this. By engaging with others in this manner you’ll learn from others experiences hear about new developments and be able to discuss best practise with your peers. Even if you are unable to participate in real time you can read transcripts of the chat on Twitter or the chat’s website and join the debate via subsequent comments (be that a tweet, wall post or blog comment).

PITFALLS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM Although social media has a lot of potential for good, it is also a public arena and should treated as such. If you forget the organisation and profession you represent you run the risk of falling into trouble. Here are three common pitfalls and how to avoid them:

GIVING UP WHEN IT DOESN’T TAKE OFF Running a page, group or chat can be very hard work. Coming up with new topics, admin duties and maintaining a community needs a lot of forethought and patience. There will be times when two people join and times when 30 people do. Patience and persistence will ensure that eventually you reach the audience you want to, you just need to keep at it. Utilise your community to create content to share as this will ensure that activity levels are maintained throughout the week.

28 Nursing in Practice March/April 2012

MISUNDERSTANDING CONTEXT As most social media is text-based communication, it lacks the emotional context to messages. This means that messages sent can be taken the wrong way, even more so when the person needs to keep it under 140 characters. This works both ways, something you write may be perceived wrongly too. Adding emoticons helps to show the user the implied emotion or simply rewording your message to emphasise context can help with this. Practise makes perfect with social media. Using social media personally and learning the way the network users talk can help, and researching the person’s last few messages for clues can help pick up on the way they type when handling different emotions.

HANDLING NEGATIVITY BADLY Handling negativity on social media can be hard. As a public figure you may want to maintain a wholly positive feed to ensure your followers engage with you. Of course there will be times when you come across someone who says something you don’t agree with. Often providing the person with a means to ‘feedback formally’ outside of social media (eg, via email or telephone) resolves the issue, as it gives them a means to have their say in a longer message to someone who can listen and act. The US Air Force created a flowchart that helps to decide on the best action to take dependent on the way the person is talking.1

CURRENT GUIDELINES Guidelines on social media use within healthcare organisations are not uniform. Healthcare organisation guidelines range from open to blanket ban. This means that there is an uneven distribution of access to social media and also experience in using it. This can lead to issues when nurses move from a closed policy organisa- tion to an open policy organisation and find themselvespotentially interacting with patients over social media. Without educating the policy makers about the uses and benefits, it will be hard to make a change in this pattern and widen the experience base of using social media to talk with and inform the public.

HOW THIS APPLIES TO NURSES The NMC has guidelines on how they can apply ‘the code’ to social media.2

This ensures nurses act appropriately on social

media but unfortunately access rights to social media lies with individual organisations. If a nurse wishes to use social media for professional development they should look at educating their superiors. Groups like #nhssm can help provide case studies that can show the benefits of social media.

CONCLUSION Social media can be a useful tool for nurses and patients alike. Care should always be exercised when information is available in the public domain, especially when it is sensitive in nature and is personally identifiable or can be traced back to yourself or your organisation. Armed with the appropriate skills and knowledge, nurses should be able to use these networks to great effect.

REFERENCES 1. US Air Force Public Affairs Agency. Air Force Blog Assessment. Available at:

2. Nursing and Midwifery Council. Advice on social networking sites. 2011. Available at:

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