Firstly, thanks to Shirley for setting up this site. It looks like an exciting space to share information about using social media for people in the social care sector.
I’m very far from a ‘pro’ when it comes to getting to grips with technology but that’s part of the reason I find the world we are living in so fascinating at the moment. Technology is a part of daily life in ways that it never was even five years ago. Yes, for some who are involved in the industry, this is all ‘old hat’ but for people like me who have always shown an interest rather than an enthusiasm, the opportunities to engage and enjoy different ways of making contact is both fascinating and exciting.
I wanted to start by writing up a few of my thoughts about the proliferation of social media and technology over the past few years and how I, as a currently practising social worker, have found them useful and why I think other social workers like me, should ‘take the plunge’.
1. Knowledge building
Last week, I wrote on the College of Social Work site about the importance of knowledge as a social worker. Knowledge isn’t static it is a work in progress. I now have access to blogs and websites that allow me to read and understand social work in a broader context and allow me to take much more responsibility for my learning and knowledge base through ‘standing on the shoulders of others’.
I can follow Twitter feeds and draw in links from those who work in different practice areas and internationally. I can follow publications through Facebook and join conversations there.
Since jumping into the ‘social media’ pool, my knowledge base has expanded exponentially. I follow the news from different countries and organisations with more interest. I can hear ‘voices’ directly from those areas affected rather than relying wholly on the mainstream media interpretations of those events. I can ‘speak’ to people in local authorities and health services and understand where my role fits in among wider systems.
I learn and I grow as a social worker but more importantly as a person.
2. Making Connections
The fact that I am writing this post now is a testament to my second point – one of making connections. I am a frontline social worker and I am not involved in any of the social work management type career path. I do my job and I hope I do my job well but I don’t have a wider ‘voice’ as relates to the ‘leaders of the profession’ or at least, I didn’t until I started to use Twitter more frequently.
Mainstream Media uses Twitter and Facebook to build stories and follow stories so ‘being there’ helps me understand how news cycles work and how journalism works and as such, it means my critical analysis about the ways that stories are put together and fed to us are sharper. The Guardian is using social media to share it’s daily newslist. Community Care has a very strong and responsive presence on Twitter and Facebook. You go where the influencers are and you can join in with the influencing.
If I say pertinent things, people will listen but it isn’t just about making connections with those who are influential in much easier ways, it is also, perhaps far more importantly, about making connections with those who use services in very different ways and learning directly about what makes a good social worker from people who have met many bad social workers. It makes my practice more person-centred and gives me a voice in dimensions that would not have been possible in previous generations.
I also think of people who might be affected by disability or illness who are able to make broader connections to feel less isolated. I have been involved in providing direct payments for people to include use of PC and broadband connection. I was told it would improve the quality of life of the service user and carer and I experience it so I understand it.
This is going to become much more common. As I connect with people who use the services not directly by me but in similar settings in other areas of the country and in other service areas. When we connect in the social sphere, I learn and I understand better and it will make me a better practitioner as a result, I have no doubt of that.
3. Building conversations
Connections are built on relationships and they are grown through conversations and one of the real bonuses I’ve noted recently are the ways that conversations can grow – either planned, like the Twitter Chat from SWSCMedia or on an improvised basis around particular topics. Facebook and Google+ are also good spaces for more extensive discussions to develop and extend beyond the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes (which has both advantages and disadvantages).
The great thing about ‘Twitter Chats’ or any chat that takes place in the open ‘social’ space is that it allows anyone from students, users of services, heads of services and run of the mill practitioners to join in, speak to each other and contribute – a real stride on the path towards equal voices being heard and a true revolution in terms of the way that information is shared and the way that knowledge can be shared.
4. Constructing and Reinforcing a Professional Identity
Social Work suffers from a image problem. Social media and non-traditional media offer us – as social workers – an opportunity to really reclaim that image without having to rely on organisations or management to do it for us. We do that by using this media responsibly and building links with service user organisations. We do this by sharing the work we do and the way we do it according to our ethical standards and by emphasising that one individual’s bad experience with a particular social worker does mean the whole profession is rotten.
We can explain and expand on what we do and why we do it directly with the mainstream media when we haven’t been given space to in the past. We can prove that it is a valuable and honourable – but oft-ignored profession – which is worthy of respect.
Social Workers are all about Social Networks. We use theories to explain relationships and networks so we have to use them too and prove we can use them successfully.
Social Networks are useful to me because they make my world bigger. They can also be very useful to the people I work with and if I am going to meet people where they are, sometimes that will be (and more increasingly so) the ‘social space’ created by technology.
5. Building Support and Resilience
I’m fortunate enough to have very supportive managers and colleagues but I’ve worked in situations where that hasn’t been the case and it can feel very isolating. Sometimes it feels like no-one can understand the stresses and pressures of the job as much as someone who is actually doing it and social media allows us ways to make contact, from home, both with other social workers who can share their own knowledge and experiences but also with our own friends who we might not have as much time to see as we would like.
We can remain in touch with our support networks and build new support networks which can help us understand what are acceptable and unacceptable expectations by our managers and find ways to talk to each other about things we find difficult (but always remaining conscious of confidentiality issues).
And sometimes, all you want to do is browse kitten photos to lift your mood.
It is important to have fun and have interests away from work – to chat about Strictly Come Dancing or follow the X Factor or to post, yes, .. kitten photos!
I’d be interested to know other reasons. These aren’t meant to be definitive and this is an area I’m interested in exploring and continuing to explore.
The point of this is to learn from others so please do share reasons and examples of positive uses for social media platforms!