Social Media in Social Work – Part 1 Blogs


Screenshot of the blogging system WordPress.

Image via Wikipedia

Or a personal reflection on what I’ve learnt  about blogging in Three Years and how it has helped me grow as a practitioner and a person.

This post is really in two parts. The first part is about my own use of a blogging platform and the second part, an exploration of the wider role of blogs to inform, engage and promote ideas and thoughts.

This blog is hosted on WordPress.com. It runs along similar lines to Blogger (which is operated by Google). For obvious reasons (namely that I am still here!), it remains my favoured platform. Both these platforms are free. I like the ‘long form’ of the blog. It allows me to explore ideas and have a rant when necessary. It has good spam protection and while sometimes I wish I had more freedom to add other things or use different themes, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The difference between WordPress.com and Blogger is generally one of personal preference. Blogger allows advertising while WordPress.com doesn’t.  I prefer the lack of advertising on the blog because it keeps things ‘cleaner’ but if you want to put adverts on your site and potentially turn it into a money-making venture Blogger would probably be a better place to start.

The software ‘behind the wheels’ allows me to monitor not only how many page views I get on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis but also where this views come from.  It is both fascinating in understanding the ‘reach’ of a blog but it also serves as a motivation for me to keep writing. I can see what I write is being read and that spurs me on.

I make a differentiation between WordPress.com and WordPress self-hosted blogs because although the software is similar, it is also possible to set out your own WordPress blog on a hosted site. I’ve tried it. I bought the relevant domains but at the end, it was a bit fiddly for me and there was nothing I could gain (apart from advertising) that I couldn’t get on the free hosted site. I do try from time to time and may well again.  It is not difficult though. That’s just me! That way you have much more control over what is and isn’t on your page. It’s often advised as the best way to go if you are ‘serious’ about blogging as an enterprise.

I would equally recommend either of those free sites to ‘start on’ if you want to give blogging a go and see how it feels for you. I know more about WordPress but I can password protect posts and create a private blog or private posts if there is the need or if you want to use the software in different ways. It isn’t about ‘hits’ but it is about quality of content and what it does for you and your practice and interactions that make the difference – well, that’s how I see it anyway.

Multi-author blogs can also be easily set up – either as a way to communicate and share ideas among a small group of people or as a way of sharing different professional perspectives. One of my favourite multi-user blogs is Mental Nurse and I’d recommend anyone go there and see what can be achieved.  One of the best things about Mental Nurse is the way that it builds community and authorship between ‘professionals’ and ‘users’ of Mental Health services.

That’s some of the technicalities out of the way.

As for professional practice my main gains have been two-fold.

One is as a method and system for extended reflection. Much of that reflection may well happen through unpublished or private posts (there are a few of them that you will never know about!!).  Sometimes I write about how I respond to things that happen rather than the things themselves. It can take time to build a style and a voice of your own. Actually, I kept the blog completely private for the first few months to try and build a ‘rhythm’.

Protection and respect for service users remains heavy on my mind. Many of the things I do on a day to day basis, I won’t ever write about but I do think there is learning to be done regarding the type of work I do. While I change many of the details and information for the purposes of anonymity, sometimes the situations and feelings are very raw and I don’t want the to share them.

Sometimes I ‘time delay’ posts that I have written in the spur of the moment because I needed to ‘get the feelings out’ but needed to review them before hitting the publish button.

Generally I write with an audience of other social workers in mind but I also write with a view to explain what we do and how we work.

To give feelings if not a face to those seemingly detached bureaucrats that sometimes seem to hide ourselves between paperwork and being busy and represent what might be going on ‘behind the scenes’.

Anonymity or not is another choice to make. Some don’t keep up the ‘anonymous’ veneer and others, like me, do.

Although I stand by everything I write and don’t –think- I’d get into trouble at work if discovered, I don’t want to take that chance but more importantly, I think attaching my name to my blog would inhibit some of my more free-flowing writing style. I would be more reserved and circumspect and I don’t want to be.

The other thing to be mindful of when writing about social work in the UK, at least, is that there are a lot of people who hate all social workers. I have had a period of being targeted in an extremely unpleasant and vaguely disturbing manner. I am very glad that my name isn’t ‘out there’ bearing in mind some of the threatening and aggressive emails I have received. WordPress has a good comment moderation system. In those early halcyon days, I had no comment filters. I learnt quickly.

The other massive benefit of blogs and blogging is the support and sharing. A community grows around a website and you have ‘regulars’ – not just commentators but visitors. Often comments are very helpful and add massively to the content of my post as people share useful experiences and insights. It is a fluid document. It allows the input of people whom I may not have contact with on a day to day basis.

It gives me a voice far greater than the voice I have as a busy front-line practitioner with no supervisory or managerial ‘role’. I am a basic grade practitioner and I want a voice. This is a very good way to build influence and grow a voice if you have something that people want to hear.  As a result of this blog, I have written in Community Care and for the Guardian Local Government Network website. I have been on a  BBC programme  and spoken to many researchers about the work I do.  These are  opportunities I would never have even considered had I not been writing here.

I have also received emails from students and practitioners. Sometimes asking me specific questions, sometimes offering support. This feedback encourages me to continue.

The blog also has almost forced me to take a deeper interest in social policy and current affairs. As I try to keep pace with all the developments I feel more of a self-inflicted responsibility to have an awareness of relevant Green and White Papers and research issues. Interest in following up to date research is a massive and very real way that my practice has improved as a direct result of my writing.

It can also be a great campaigning tool and platform  as well by holding local and national government to account. I’m not saying I can change the world through a small social work specific blog but I can give my perspective as someone who has experience in this field and who knows, maybe someone with a lot more influence than me will come across it or be directed towards it and learn about the issues that affect service delivery at a front line and client facing level.

There are blogs that do analysis and badgering much much better than I but writing and publishing on a regular basis gives one a fantastic understanding of the possibilities of different types of media in a practical sense and it is much more engaging if you are an active participant.

Some of the most important links I have made through this blog are with those in other professions and users of services and their carers.  The form of writing and ‘giving a view’ creates a type of vulnerability and sensitivity to the views and inputs of others that is crucial in a role such as mine which has a such a massive power imbalance that one needs to work with.

There are other platforms to blogs of course and everyone has their own reason and style of writing.

If you are thinking about trying it out as a means to create a platform – whether public or private, I’d certainly recommend it with the proviso to be careful regarding privacy and what you throw into the public sphere!

Some useful resources I’ve found regarding blogging in general.

Problogger – A good ‘how to blog’ blog – emphasises making profit but many useful tips about writing.

Daily Blog Tips Similar to above but I find it a bit more money-orientated however some useful posts in the sidebar.

Copyblogger Bit of writing, bit of social media.

Alltop Blogs about Blogging (all the above appear in this list as well as a number of others).

Mostly though, you take some of the information ‘out there’ but shape the blog as your own with your own voice. That’s when it has the most power.

I use Zemanta and Windows Live Writer to compose my posts.

I wrote this post a few years back explaining how I put together posts. A lot of the information remains the same but I now tend to use Zemanta rather than Flickr for pictures when I do use them.  I write less about people I work with and in much vaguer and less ‘real’ terms. I am also much happier in my job than I was three years ago when I wrote that. Perhaps that has coloured my perception somewhat.

Next week, I’ll look at some of the social bookmarking sites and the ‘shorter form’ blogs such as Tumblr and Posterous. I tend to use Tumblr to collate links and references which is the reason I am lumping them together but more about that next Monday.

So do you write? Are you interested in starting to write about social work or about mental health work? Do you have any other resources to add to my list?

Do you have experience of other platforms such as Typepad which I completely left off my list because I know nothing about it?

All comments welcomed!

12 thoughts on “Social Media in Social Work – Part 1 Blogs

  1. Excellent post! I realised last night I hadn’t blogged since the job stuff started happening at work, but this is probably the time I should be blogging.

    I think twitter tying in with a blog can help too as it puts a “human” face/character on the well-laid out and well-written posts. I certainly go digging for a twitter as soon as I read a blog anyway !! 🙂

    Fab. I also don’t know how you write in a morning, fantastic self-motivation. 😉

  2. Thanks 🙂 I am going to do a full post on Twitter because if anything, that adds a completely different dimension and has certainly been great at the ‘building links and making contacts’ area of influence!

    I was a bit sceptical about Twitter initially but now it is a constant for me 🙂

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  4. I use Microsoft Office Word to write my blogposts, as I’ve got loads of autocorrect shortcuts for long words or phrases, or words I repeatedly spell wrong. I think you can use pictures as well in their Blog setting, although I’ve never tried. Having said that, it worked brilliantly for weeks, but now won’t let me upload it I end up copying and pasting it into Blogger by hand…

    Your suggestion of ‘time delaying’ posts is a really good one, that I’m going to start using. I made some factual mistakes in a recent post on CQC that I wish I’d picked up before I posted. It also might have been a bit less fiery if I’d waited a couple of days… When I do make mistakes though, I prefer to leave them visible but crossed out, as it seems somehow more honest than editing them out as if I never made them. What do others do?

    • Hi Lucy
      I tried Microsoft Office but I prefer Live Writer – perhaps because I’m more used to it…

      Sometimes my most popular posts have been random and quickly hammered rants and I’m not as good at editing as I should be but in some ways that’s the joy of the form as opposed to ‘proper writing’!
      Errors, it depends. Mostly I’ll leave them in with an added note saying I’ve made a change.
      sometimes I delete them if it is something like a spelling mistake or grammatical error.

  5. Great post as always. I think yours was the first social work blog I read and until I found yours, I didn’t really even know there was a community of social work bloggers! 🙂

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  7. Thanks 🙂 In some ways, Twitter has been better for deeper links and community building because you get to ‘know’ the person better but I like the long form as well!

  8. I started off with my own self-hosted WordPress but I probably should have just bought a domain name and transferred it to a free, WordPress.com-hosted blog instead.
    Blogger is a bit less fiddly and I sometimes find that the picture uploading windows don’t load properly, or at all, which can be frustrating.

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  11. I’ve found your site to be a really good read especially as I am relatively new to blogging.
    It’s also quite refreshing to find a blog that’s all about blogging without there being a caveat in that you ultimately want to sell me some great secret and how I will be much worse off as a blogger if I don’t buy it!
    Thanks

    Conal

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