Embracing Social Media and Developing Guidance for Social Work

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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.

Even other local government employees seem to be talking about ways of using social media in their work that seems to be unbelievable for those who work in social work and social care.

Shirley Ayres on her site, posts an interesting video about the spread of social media and the need for engagement in all channels.

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.

6 thoughts on “Embracing Social Media and Developing Guidance for Social Work

  1. Hi cb,

    I totally agree with you…and the point you are trying to make is something that Nancy (@njsmyth) at Virtual Connections, Mike (@MikeLICSW) at Gamer Therapist and others have also been trying to advocate for some time now.

    The problems is that all of you are preaching to the choir, so to speak…

    The social workers who are going to be reading your blog are already social workers who are interested and engaged in social media…however, we need to find a way reach and engage the vast majority of social workers who avoid social media…

    Perhaps this needs to be done via the traditional methods of media/ communication?

    At the same time, continuing with the online forum idea you mentioned vis a vis other groups, maybe it would be a great idea for us to start up a regular weekly (or biweekly) twitter chat so that those of us who are engaged can perhaps connect on a deeper level.

    What do you think?

    One of the topics for the agenda could be to brainstorm on how to increase the awareness and appeal of social media to social media phobic social workers…

    • Dorlee – I completely take your point about preaching to the converted. A part of my purpose in writing this was so it could be directed towards some of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the UK who are in the process of setting up some groups around technology and use of technology so, if you like, this post was my attempt at a ‘submission’ to that group!
      I would love to have some kind of online forum to discuss more of the common issues across boundaries. One of the things that I find most valuable is building links and contacts internationally. The problem with twitter chats is that sometimes time zones can impede 😦

  2. Hi,

    glad you are raising the issues. There are serious issues at stake here but something that is sort of a fact is that social media aint going away.

    It’s about understanding we are in the scial realm now. Which I feel on the whole is a good thing.

    How we maintain appropriate boundaries around that is a good source of useful debate and conversation, especially with colleagues and clients.

    But here’s another fact, our clients are using social media and they are not going to stop. So I reckon we need to be in it to get what they are getting from it.

    Anyway I have put some more thoughts here, if that is OK: social media and therapy http://bit.ly/l8Gi1D



    • Thanks Noel – you’re right – it is those boundaries that I think we have to address because they aren’t going away. and thanks for the link!

  3. We need social workers to engage in social media. Period. Especially, to help reshape our profession globally. Honestly, as a young social worker I feared that having my name on the ‘internet’ was detrimental and would harm clients or expose myself, but truthfully, there are ways to express professional experiences without violating law or client rights.

    Unfortunately, social workers are isolated in the interweb and must rely on static information to get cutting edge information instead of engaging in a conversation. We need to change this if we want to advance our careers and expand the outlook for our clients

    • I completely agree Mozart but I also think some kind of guidance and support should be put into place for new social workers so they can be aware of some of the issues of boundaries. I think we have a wonderful resource though.

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