Social Networking Basics for Care Organisations

“For the first time we have the social tools to make group action a reality. And they’re going to change our whole world” Clay Shirky Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008)

If people have a choice about who is delivering their care services would they chose your organisation? The chill winds of budget cuts and redundancies along with increasing expectations and more connected communities mean that public services are under considerable scrutiny. The need for a culture of innovation and creativity is essential if we are to meet the challenges and aspirations for improved care services. In some ways it is frustrating to reflect on the lack of progress since the publication of my report on “The future for personalisation? Service users, carers and digital engagement” by IRISS in August 2011.

Social networking, social learning and the use of mobile technology have an increasingly important role in the care sector. Digital networks are enabling different forms of collective action and collaborative groups are being formed which connect and support people across the world. How many networks is your organisation involved with?

“The cost of all kinds of group activity has fallen dramatically and social tools provide the capacity for action by loosely structured groups, operating without managerial direction and outside the profit motive”
Clay Shirky

There are an increasing range of different tools available which include: twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, flickr, slideshare, blogs, webinars, podcasts etc. The tools are simply a way of enabling people to share,co-operate and collaborate. These tools used creatively will complement each other but they do need to be used strategically and to make sense for your organisation and audience.

Social networking is about listening; engaging, providing value by solving problems and answering questions and building relationships. An increasing number of people are using online forums to share thoughts and ideas about good practice across the care sector. Are you evaluating how your organisation is using social media to extend participation, provide information and collaborate with similar organizations?

“No decision about me without me” With the promise of more control and choice in both health and care services there is a growing expectation of honesty, openness and transparency in transactions between citizens and public organisations. Used solely as a broadcast channel social media will not have any significant or positive impact about how people see your organisation. A few tweets, an e-letter, a forum on a website and joining groups without contributing to discussions do not constitute a social media strategy. Do you know where people are already having conversations about social care on the internet?

Developing social media activities is an important part of building a presence and a profile on the internet. But social networking using social media tools will need to become part of the DNA of the whole organisation, led, supported and endorsed by the senior management team. This can involve a substantial mind shift within organisations who see social media solely as a broadcasting and/or marketing channel.

Action Points

1. Undertake a review of your current communications activities including websites, blogs, published materials and events.
Decide what it is you want to achieve and explore how social networking will contribute to your communications and stakeholder engagement strategy. How effective are your current activities, how do you know what is working well, who are your customers and what is the added value you offer?

2. Develop a social media and social learning policy in consultation with staff and stakeholders

3. Provide social media workshops to help all staff become familiar with and confident in using social media tools. Encourage feedback and suggestions about how you can improve internal and external communications.

4. Measure and evaluate the return on your investment in social media activities including google alerts and google anlaytics
Social media has challenged organisations to embrace new ways of connecting and communicating, demanding greater openness, transparency and engagement. What is the potential Return On Investment (ROI) of an approach to social media which develops real relationships with stakeholders?

There is a lot of learning and risk associated with launching a public blog. Easily accessible, relevant and timely information on your website is essential. Invite feedback about your website. Be prepared for discussions and conversations which you cannot control but from which there can be considerable learning for the organisation. Be prepared to respond to questions and criticism.

Social networking, in many ways, is all about learning. Social media is one of the most powerful ways to understand what we do and why, learn as we go, and share what we learn with others. Every day conversations are taking place across the internet about social work and social care. Do you know what is being said about leadership, social care, services for children, workforce development, social learning and commissioning in the care sector? A good starting point is the informative post 7 reasons to launch an internal blog before going public.

About Shirley Ayres The Japanese have a word “Kaizen” which translated means “the gathering of the wisdom of the people” As a knowledge management and communications consultancy we have particular expertise in developing social networks and social learning with an unrivaled and in depth knowledge of the care sector. We advise and review public, private and non profit organisations communication & digital engagement strategies.


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