I’ve been engaged in an interesting conversation on Twitter over the past couple of days about guidance being developed or potentially being developed about use of social media for social workers and more generally people who work in social care.
Our sector seems to be dragging its feet a little in this respect – certainly in comparison to some of the more sophisticated writing and communities that exist in other professional domains.
Can you imagine, for example, a social care blogging event taking place on the same scale that a legal blogging event is taking place today?
Or a weekly twitter chat about social care and social media strategies as happens with the NHS.
I wonder how long many of my colleagues and managers are going to be left ‘out of the loop’ and continue to let the world develop and grow around them.
The reasons that I am so strongly in favour of guidelines is that the bars are being moved regarding contact, discourse and discussion constantly and with many people testing out new ways of communicating and engaging, there are certain difficulties that lie ahead for the front line practitioner.
One is the anonymity vs named issue which I covered a couple of weeks ago. A part of me (the part where pride is based, I guess) would love to write under my own name but I worry about the impact that would have both on the service users I work with on a day to day basis and I am genuinely unsure if I am breaking any kind of contractual rules with my writing and can’t afford to risk my job.
Another is sheer openness of the debate and discussion. Just as I told one of our foster children not to put anything on Facebook that she would not want everyone in her school and family to see, the same applies for me but more so. With Twitter/Blogs/Facebook, privacy settings can be tightened but security is always an issue and even behind an anonymous persona, being a prig or prejudicial or just ‘having a moan about a visit’ might come across very differently to a service user who has just had an unpleasant and forced encounter with a social worker – does a search – and sees social workers complaining about seeing the ‘druggie’ or about people with ‘too many children’. Everyone likes a moan but having a moan about having a busy day is different from having a moan about some of the more particular things you might see on a day to day basis.
Then there is the illusionary barrier that is provided by a screen-name. Anyone can be a ‘social worker’ if they say they are. Anyone can be a ‘judge’ or a ‘professor of social work’ or a ‘psychologist’ if they say they are. While I have a healthy degree of scepticism generally, I tend to take people at face value but I add a hefty pinch of salt as the ‘internet’ and by extension ‘social media’ can be a great way to invent less than useful ‘personalities’ if you are so minded to do.
I remember when I did some research back in the day into the use of social networks for self-help groups – and this is over 10 years ago when I was initially doing my MA – and came across lots of research examples of online confabulation. As I say, a healthy pinch of salt.
I hope that the baton is picked up by the social work profession because more than media guides and focus groups and the odd press release here and there, we, at the grass roots of the profession have an real opportunity to be heard by those who are able to make changes and help them get an understanding of what is happening beyond those focus groups but we can also change the perception of the profession and the sector and while I certainly don’t see ‘social media’ as a cure-all, I do see it as yet another tool to be added to our arsenal regarding communication.
Where previously a bad experience with a particular social worker might have shaped someones’ perception of the profession forever, now we have the chance to join in the discussion on blogs, give advice and thoughts in different forums, add support and information on twitter and show that social workers can do a lot more than just become mouthpieces of their employers.
But our employers and our College (whatever form that takes) need to take up the baton and run with it so that guidance can allow for safer practice and inform and education others in the profession about the opportunities that are now open to them.