Opensourcing Professional Social Media Principles for Social Work

I’ve been thinking a lot about the development of principles around use of social media for social workers and social care workers in particular over the last few months.

Having been to events and had discussions with doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and users of services that we all provide, I think there are some great models for the College of Social Work to build on and thought I’d try and offer some thoughts up into the field.

I’m not an ‘expert’ in this area. I don’t honestly think at the moment there are any experts. There are people who use social media in different ways and it’s important that any guidelines are sufficiently flexible both to protect us from ourselves, especially when starting out but also allow very different uses and interpretations both of ‘social’ and ‘media’.

Ideally I’d like an open space for these issues to be discussed by those in the sector to help us decide on what we adopt as guidelines for the profession along with examples.

Is a social work student writing on a locked facebook account about their placement in a different position to someone who has opened their account up?

Is an anonymous account called ‘MysteriousSocialWorker’ subject to the same code as an account named as Jane Smith – Social Worker?

Whatever guidelines are developed they have to encourage and contain all these issues and allow the means to be seen as having an end result some of which will be professionally useful but some of which will cross heavily into ‘personal’ life.

As the use of open social media becomes ingrained in our societal interactions we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I heard earlier this year someone tell me they had been advised by a superior not to have any contact with Twitter/Facebook/Blogs either in a personal or professional capacity due to their role. I think we can all see the problems with this, it is not possible to ‘control’ or ‘limit’ this behaviour as it is increasingly a part of normal daily life.

It is also an aspect, certainly as far as I’m concerned, that enriches both my personal and professional life.

So what would I see as important as guidance?

– Be aware of social conventions/power relationships and confidentiality as we would be in a regular conversation aloud to a stranger in a public cafe.

If you are happy telling the person sitting next to you in the pub about what you do and who you are, there’s no reason to fear it particularly in a social media setting – but the limits of oversharing, giving personal information or revealing details of the work you do remain in place.

However, it is easy to overshare in the text-based setting. We can feel more reassured when we are sitting alone and typing into a computer about sharing our more private, more thoughtful moments. Stop and think before publishing. As someone who finds writing a very useful way to reflect, I am aware that not everything written has to be published and not every thought (even ones that may be helpful or interesting to others) needs to be shared.

See the potential of social media as a means for personal and professional growth.

It won’t suit everyone. Some people prefer books to Kindles. Some people prefer auditory to visual stimulation. As I learnt about ‘learning styles’ so we have different communication styles. Some people prefer Pinterest to Facebook. Some people prefer Twitter to longer form blog posts.

There is no and there will be no preferred medium as the different media diversify and we find the networks, groups and associates we feel more comfortable with.

Some people won’t want to engage at all but the opportunities should be there.

Use tools and don’t let the tools enamour you or dazzle you

It’s important to emphasise that the use of social media has to  have a purpose. Be that purpose learning, connecting or entertainment, it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Gaining numbers of followers is a by product not a purpose. Gaining genuine relationships with people with whom you might not otherwise have been able to, that’s a goal. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers games, I’ve certainly been attentive to my 100th follower and other ‘landmarks’ but the real value is what you do with that, rather than the numbers attained.

It’s easy to believe the hype of the social media ‘bubble’ from within but real influence in a real world setting takes more.

Ethical and Responsible Use and Modelling/Sharing Behaviours

I’ve written this before  but I’ve seen concerning practice of ‘oversharing’ publicly. I’ve also seen (and actually been subject to) bullying type practises that have spilled over into distress in my off-line world. While I use an anonymous moniker for now, it’s important to remain cautious of those who adopt names and who the person is behind the persona.

Equally important to remember that each name and each avatar is a real person with real feelings that can be affected.

Common sense is needed even in these new communication frontiers and opportunities that we are creating but how do we quantify the caution without stymying the potential?

I’m sure I’ll add to this list but I’d love to hear, through the comments of other guidelines which should be added and forwarded to the part of the College of Social Work which will be responsible for coordinating and writing a robust social media policy which is both positive and engaging rather than full of ‘don’t’s.

So please add comments and we can ask the College to read through them and consider them!

One response to “Opensourcing Professional Social Media Principles for Social Work

  1. Tarsem Singh Cooner

    This is a really thought provoking post.

    I’ve been concerned about the lack of attention pre-qualifying social work courses seem to have towards the ease with which social networks created in University can be carried over into the post qualified world. Whilst I believe social networks that students develop in University are important and should be maintained after they leave, as educators we have a responsibility to help students consider the implications of their current and future online behaviour. This is no different to the work we do with them about their actions in the “real world”.

    I’ve developed a model that uses closed Facebook groups alongside an enquiry based approach within a whole families module. The aim is not to have social media use as something that sits separately, but rather is integrated into the teaching experience. Therefore the content of the teaching remains the same (approaches to whole family working) but the students also learn about the ‘boundaries’ of sharing public and private information, their responsibilities of maintaining confidentiality, implications of the Data Protection Act in using social media etc. The aim is for students to learn through experience about the implications of their social media use. From my experience, there is no more powerful learning experience than one that the students actually engage in. Using Facebook (or whatever platform they may use daily in the future) to encourage them to consider the ethics of their behaviour is a must in pre-qualifying education.

    For what its worth my recommendations to the College are:

    1. Before going out on their first placement pre-qualifying programmes should provide opportunities for students to examine the amount of publicly accessible information about them and the messages the information may convey to service users.

    2. Teaching about social media should be integrated into modules topics and not be a standalone item. In my example above, students were given a problem based scenario that required them to find solutions to a life like social work situation. They were required to use social media in teams to find a solution in a way that they may realistically adopt once out in practice. This type of approach leads to a richer learning experience and one that enables reflection in and on action.

    3. Doing nothing is not an option. Social networking is here and used by social workers and services users (I acknowledge that social workers can also be service users).

    4. Before developing guidelines, policies etc, canvas the opinions of those in the profession who make use of this medium. Do not rely on “experts” outside of the discipline. The ethics and values of our profession should be at the forefront of any guidelines.

    Again, brilliant post, thanks for raising this important topic.

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