Interviews and Ideas

Please forgive the blatant self-promotion in this post but it’s Friday and I’m feeling a like I have a bit of a cold coming so I’m less ‘perky’ than usual.

Dorlee from Social Work Career Development has published an interview which she did with me and it concentrates on what I do at work and some of the ways it differs from Social Work in the United States.  Excellent work, if I do say so myself – but joking apart, it is a good way for us to learn about social work in other countries.

Shirley Ayres has written a fantastic post for PSW, the BASW magazine (yes, I know.. ) and it includes some gems from myself. It’s a piece about social media use for social work specifically and is definitely worth a look.  The PDF is available here

As for my twittering on last week about wanting to work collaboratively on more online social work conferences/learning/interaction – well, it’s VERY rudimentary, but I’ve set up a ‘holding site’ here

Feel free to nose around as the whole point is to emphasise openness, conversation and working together on something that can be led by social work and improve social work without having a cost barrier to entry and that allows all who want to learn and contribute to do so. I’ve also added a very basic forum just to collect ideas.

I don’t have any great desire to ‘run’ this project and if anyone with greater technical skills wants to volunteer them then please please do but it’s a start and I hope someone will – even if it isn’t me – because I think something that adds value to our collective, international knowledge base and moves learning out of universities and into practice will be a real ‘hook’ in convincing more practicing social workers to engage with social media and new technologies.

Enough from me, the forum is here. Do join and share ideas.

(Don’t be scared that there isn’t much there yet.. everything needs to start somewhere!)

Technology, Social Media and Social Services – Finding new ways to ‘help’

iPad con dock y teclado inalámbrico

Image via Wikipedia

I have some across lots of discussions and debates about ways of using social media and new technologies and interactions to ‘help’ social services become more effective. Most of it seems to revolve around building online directories and databases of micro providers and services that are available which build on so-called community capacity to improve the way that personal budgets can or might work.

At the risk of sounding overly cynical there is nothing ‘innovative’ in my mind about building a directory of services.  To me, this is not a particularly innovative way to use ‘technology’ in social services.  It taking a very obvious and well-trodden route to using new technologies. Providing directories while being useful to a certain group of people again exacerbates the isolation of those who are not party to or able to use them.  Being innovative isn’t always necessary to be helpful but it is very important that new ideas are focussed so we don’t just end up with increasingly specialised, localised directories that might have more ‘interactive’ features and feedback, look more ‘user led’ and compatible with the buzz words of social media but in the end they are brushing the surface of possibilities.

It feels more and more as if that there is a growing division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as far as personal budgets have been extended and does absolutely nothing to address or use technologies to address those who reside continually in the ‘have not’ section.

While at work, we labour with database systems that have clearly been developed through conversations between commissioners and software companies without any recourse to frontline practitioners, nice new provider directories are being tinkered around with while the fundamental foundations of the systems we work with remain resolutely inaccessible.

I’ve had a few ideas myself and whilst I lack the technological expertise to see any of these ideas to fruition, this is a kind of ‘wish list’ of the sorts of things I’d like to see.  I’m under no illusion that these are ‘new’ ideas. I am sure similar things already exist in some form but they are things I’d like to see pan out in the longer run. Things I’d like to use at work.

I’d like to see more creativity in the use of technologies to assist with decision making for adults who have some kind of cognitive deficit. I’m a great fan of the ‘tablet’ and ‘touch screen’ model as I think it is intuitively an easier interface to understand.  When I see people instinctively reach out to touch the screen of my Kindle (which isn’t touchscreen!) I realise that we are becoming conditioned to seek the easiest input methods which are about touching a screen and speaking into a microphone and perhaps writing on a tablet. Now, voice recognition has improved, I’m yet to come across very successful handwriting recognition (possibly because I have scrawly almost illegible handwriting) but there is potential there. In the meantime, pictures and touchscreens seem like a good way to go.

Using pictures/sounds/music it can draw on multi-media ‘shows’ and explanations of different options – moving beyond the ‘written word’. Providing documentation in aural form or in pictorial/moving form rather than reams of leaflets. Having recordings of familiar voices or pictures of familiar faces might help to reassure. I’m a great fan of telecare in general with the proviso of always being mindful that the human contact is not replaced but in days where human contact is sparsely provisioned anyway, it may be something that can be experimented with.

Why not a YouTube type video to explain how services can be chosen instead of reams of ‘easy read’ leaflets which really aren’t remotely ‘easy read’. Instead of flooding people with lists of providers (which, while good for some ignores those who are restricted in terms of capacity and carers to choose ‘freely’ the types of services they garner) why not explain and expound in different ways the ways that services can work?

Why not explain providers in terms of what they can actually provide and what purpose they serve rather than creating directories that are meant for people with a good understanding of what they want and need?

I was in a day centre last week and there was a seemingly unused Wii. I wonder if he Kinect might be a better project to develop some type of interactive play, exercise and work as it doesn’t need a controller at all and uses the more innovative way of body movement.  Using participatory games with larger screens in company can provide different stimuli. I know why games developers  haven’t tackled directly the ‘older’ market with games that might otherwise reside in memories but why not repackage old school yard games and board games with Kinects and iPads? It may be a good way to introduce the use of these new technologies in a ‘friendly’ manner which may then see them used in other wider ways – such as directories or personalised information sources. Using YouTube video channels for personally designed ‘reminiscence’ therapies could personalise the delivery of memories and digitise memory boxes where items are not there to build up the frames of someone’s life and people aren’t there to fill in the gaps.

There are many ‘dating site’ type services that match people and organisations. Volunteers to voluntary groups etc. How about a type of match between schools and residential homes? I know it’s something that’s sometimes done locally where I work and having spoken to both providers and some of the kids who go in, they seem to enjoy it and it can change and break expectations – each of the other.  I

We talk of social media a lot and often it is used to provide ‘recommendations’ to particular services through these databases. Perhaps more user and carer led general recommendations can be collated. Crowd source an ‘introduction’ to social services provisions by those currently using the service.

Ask ‘what do you wish you’d known?’ ‘what do you wish someone had told you?’ and while taking out all the obviously libellous stuff, a local authority must be brave enough to leave in the criticisms. We learn through complains and criticisms and it can take a lot of guts (or anger) to make a complaint or to criticism and that MUST be respected by the service and the individuals at fault and used as a means of improvement.

I don’t want to see local authorities ‘whitewash’ problems in order to gain sparkling OFSTED or CQC inspections. It sullies the whole process and makes the inspections worthless. Regulation should be less authoritarian and more about actually making improvements and making things better for the end user – not about allowing local authorities to produce the ‘right’ results while poor practice is brushed away from the sight of the inspectors.

But back to my point about using social media to crowdsource – it is important that social media ALONE is not used as an ‘answer’. Crowd sourcing must be honest but it must also be broader than putting out an ‘internet consultation’ and having a Twitter account or blog. There must be pounding of the streets too to engage those who are not able to use digital means to put their points across. There should be knocking at doors and face to face discussions – not leaflets, not inaccessible (for some) groups.

Talking about crowdsourcing though, there’s a much better and perhaps more obvious way it can be used and certainly isn’t being used at the moment and that’s to engage other social workers and professionals into putting together more information and useful methods of practice for ourselves. Sure, it needs time but we remain reliant on organisations to provide ‘guidance’ such as SCIE (who do provide fantastic resources) and BASW and the College of Social Work but why none of these organisations who purport to exist to help social work and social care practice actually engage more directly and use social media and open access blogs/discussion groups/forums/micro blogging etc to engage with currently practicing social workers is completely beyond me.

I’ve become very interested in open access education and resources and feel there is great scope for professional engagement and information to build its own resources and information together with users and carers, together with other professionals but there has to be a push for social workers to see the benefit of sharing and finding appropriate ways to share the information that we learn every day.

I have other ideas which will come in different posts  but I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ ideas for uses of ‘technology’ in the very broadest sense and how they can develop to help the broadest range of people we see in social services – particularly those who are less able to look information up in various fancy online directories.

Old Media, New Media and the Social Echo Chambers

News of the World

Image via Wikipedia

I’m off on a bit of a tangent today and I apologise to my social work readers for that, but sometimes a story happens that causes me to think more widely about the implications on a societal scale.

So in the wake of the death of the News of the World, I was left with a few residual thoughts about the transitioning between traditional media sources and the so-called ‘new’ media and the role and interplay between them.

I have been feeling for a few months if not more that the ‘internet’ – blogs and twitter predominantly, create their own ‘echo chamber’ effect where it is easy to become caught up in a competition of ‘page hits’ and ‘followers’ where you might gain an overinflated idea of the influence that can be welded by a blog or a tweet or by one particular ‘voice’ over another.

I occasionally boast about my ‘hits’ or ‘numbers of posts’ because I’m human and I indulge myself but I know that out of an audience of the average ‘man in the street’, my online life, perhaps because I separate it through a different (anonymous) identity has no bearing or interest to people in the ‘real world’.

I am sure some communities, professions and cultures are more likely to ‘connect’ than others. Journalists for example, would be foolish not to build their voices through different channels. Social Workers, less so but it remains a fine way of building conversations through unconventional means to promote the identity of the profession and to challenge poor press coverage.

Twitter especially, with regards to counting followers – can become a self-referential and meaningless circle of assumed influence if it is not used and reflected on. Yes, I have many followers but much more important is WHO those people are rather than the numbers. Similarly with this site my ‘hits’ keep going up but if that’s made up with people who find me by an ‘I hate social workers’ search or because they want information about ‘dangerous hamsters’ (incidentally, one of my highest search terms (!)) it shouldn’t be the cause of a celebration at this wonderful ‘break-out’ opportunity to ‘influence’.

Twitter for me, started as an alternative to an RSS feed as a means of ‘following’ the delivery of news. It became more conversational but now I see it as reverting to a news delivery system but with more curation. I know the people I follow will find the news that interests me and sometimes I will have useful and interesting conversations but mostly it is about news curation and building links in a much more effective and randomly serendipious way than blog comments where the power tends to remain in the hands of the site owner/s.  So in a sense, Twitter can become it’s own kind of newspaper with people whom I trust finding the articles that I know I will find interesting.

I’ve also tried to be a little sceptical in part about a role in social media regarding the building of individual influence and branding. Far more likely larger, different conglomerate and disparate sites and services will take over rather than the individual person with a voice having their own blogger or wordpress site.

And then I see as the News of the World story broke, the so-called ‘Twittersphere’ (and Facebook groups) picked up the baton (aided, importantly, by some larger group blogs – Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook ) in targetting advertisers.

I still suspect that people who extensively use Twitter and read blogs are in the massive minority in the general populace however those users have loud voices and they have influential voices. PR likes new media – so voices shouting loudly are heard by the ‘right’ people.

My  worry is two-fold though before we head off down the path of increasing equality and a breaking down of the barriers between bloggers and journalists, people and politicians.

Firstly, there are massive groups of people who are disengaged and remain disengaged by the so-called ‘digital divide’. Some groups of people are much more likely to have their views heard.

Secondly, the rise of the group blog and of different kinds of news organisations like the Huffington Post which set up in the UK this week, as well as Dale and Company (which is launching today)  are merely replacing one kind of journalism for another.

There will always be a place for good journalism and don’t think we are close yet to the death of the newspaper but the balance has shifted a little more along the way this week.

Sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and retain a perspective outside the ‘internet’ and ‘new media’ bubble and remember that there is still a long way to go before we assume equality of access and  pay attention to the volume of the different kinds of voices that may be heard.

Media, whether old or new, still has an agenda. We shouldn’t think that just because we can add a comment to a news story or a blog post or retweet an interesting nugget or post curious stories to facebook that we have a greater role in influencing the agenda. Maybe we do but it isn’t necessarily the case.

In the meantime though, I can’t say I would be sad to see a re-examination of the relationships between media and politics in society in general. It is well overdue.

So Goodbye News of the World – Hello seven day Sun. Is the world really that different?


Embracing Social Media and Developing Guidance for Social Work

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

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.

Social Media and Social Work – Part 4 Social Networks and Forums

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

In this post, I am going to look at the ways that I use and have used social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook in a professional capacity and I also want to touch on the wider uses of forums and discussion groups.

Perhaps this would have been the logical place to start the ‘series’ because when you mention ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’ the most commonly held (and used) example is Facebook.

Facebook is the most prolific site with over 500 million active users around the world. That’s a fairly mindblowing figure when you stop and think about it.

So how would I use Facebook in a work environment. The simple answer is that, in general, I don’t.  I favour Twitter over Facebook for link sharing and random work-related thoughts. Facebook identifies me by name and location. My family and friends update me on their news. I have some work colleagues or ex-work colleagues as my friends but anyone who has ‘friended’ me on facebook and reads this can testify to the dullness of my updates!

This is intentional. There are ways to close down Facebook regarding information that is accessible and it’s a good idea to do that for reasons of privacy. I might sometimes share an interesting story I find on Facebook but I’m more likely to share pictures of baby animals and other non-controversial irrelevancies. The reason for this is that generally when the people I know ‘go’ to Facebook, it is for updating/chatting to friends – it has a perfect use for students at the same universities to stay in touch throughout placements, for example – but for me, it doesn’t seem to be the best environment for sharing more controversial or immediate items. Partly because half the people from school who have ‘friended’ me on Facebook seem to have grown into Tories…

However I fully accept that I don’t explore the full potential of Facebook. The ability to set up groups both closed and open groups allows for discussions to take place.  You can’t ignore the user base of Facebook. I have, for example, set up a ‘fan page’ for this site but I am less good at actually checking and using it! Fan pages though can be used as discussions and to form more integrated communities around certain issues and debates.

You can, of course, create ‘false’ Facebook identities. I know a number of people who use maiden names or slightly different names to use Facebook just to make more of a distinction with work.

As for LinkedIn, which claims to be a more ‘business’ focussed network, I am much more sceptical.  There are claimed to be 100 million users (although ‘user’ is more of ‘people who have signed up’ than active users who keep returning).  LinkedIn is presented as a more ‘serious’ social network where you connect with contacts on a professional rather than personal level. Like Facebook, your name and place of work is identified and there are ways and means to use both open and closed discussion groups.  If you see yourself as a ‘product’ to be marketed and sold, I suspect it has more use. My personal experience is that is that most contacts that have  made with me are from predatory recruitment consultants and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about advertising my place of work so openly.   It is open enough to be searchable from Google if you don’t lock down the privacy settings and to identify both name and place of work.  I understand that not everyone operates in the same kind of arena that I do and for most people in most spheres of life, that would pose no problem whatsoever but social work is and can be different. Sometimes the actions we take mean that being openly searchable is not necessarily ‘a good thing’. I’m open to persuasion though so if anyone can convince me that would be fine.

I have tended to prefer ‘Communities of Practice’ as a work-related discussion forum which runs on a government site and again, it attaches your name to your work location but the discussions there are much more valuable as they are more specifically related to the workplace in the UK.  It is not ‘open’ in the same way and content is not search engine linked which, to be honest, I see as a bonus.

There are ‘communities’ about many of the more specialist subjects that might come up in statutory work in particular. I’ve found it to be a useful source of information for those with much more experience and I’ve also found it to be a ‘safe’ place to ask some of the questions that might come up in practice. Some of the ‘communities’ are only open to invite, some to allcomers with an interest and it is quite easy to set up your own communities. The attachment of name and employer mitigate some of the tendency for ‘trolls‘ to emerge on some of the more open forums.

Then there are other forums of interest – namely those that are hosted and set up on their own websites. An example of this would be the ‘Carespace’  from Community Care which is a discussion forum for those interested in social care in the UK. Like any anonymous community, there is an element of mischief making among some participants who may find that anonymity allows them a freer rein and there are the alarmingly regular requests for help with essays by people who seem baffled by some of the most basic concepts but in general the good outweighs the bad.

BASW have their own ‘forum’ which is only open to members and the GSCC have their own forums for those who are registered with them. The problem with both of these is that there is a ‘higher’ bar to membership. Sometimes making things as simple as possible (create a  username – login –) make for the more vibrant and active communities or a login via Facebook and/or LinkedIn which only require a ‘one click’ to join a particular group.  I haven’t joined either the BASW nor the GSCC forums partly because I don’t like the idea of my membership number or registration number to be linked to my log in.

Some services such as Free Forums’ allow anyone to set up a free forum for themselves.

Then there are some other mailing lists that I belong to. Yahoo and Google both allow for these groups to be created and ‘posts’ can be emailed round members or visited ‘on the site’.  For those ‘old school’ users, Google has archived the old Usenet groups from the early days of ‘internet connectivity’ but they and their successors are far more accessible now! Obviously, the level of information shared can be more closely focused on what you choose to share.

The positives of social networks and forums to discuss are very clear – on one level it is the absolute bedrock of social media – discussions can take place and there is a sense of ‘democracy’ in that anyone can start and contribute to them – depending obviously on the ‘open or closed’ proviso.  There are many different platforms for the discussion and debate to take place   – in some ways too many choices, real name or pseudonym, real ‘person’ or caricature of an identity.

One of the basic fundamentals in discussions online is the veneer than allows on one level a deeper debate of issues and thoughts and the cloak of anonymity that can allow a more unfettered rein to some issues that could offend or upset. It is far easier to get ‘wound up’ about a forum post than it is to feel angry or frustrated in discussion with someone face to face. Misinterpretation can be an issue to be aware of in all communication media.

However as the ways to share information grow, we have so many more opportunities to learn and gather sources and knowledge and to share.

All that’s up to us to do is to find the appropriate channel and that’s a tough decision in itself.

If you are interested in the use of social media in social work, please look back at the other posts in this series.

Part 1 – Blogs

Part 2 – Social Bookmarking

Part 3 Twitter

Thanks. I’d welcome any input about other communities/forums that have been useful to you and how you use Facebook/LinkedIn

Weekly Social Work Links 13

With the real arrival of Spring, I’m overeager to catch the morning sunshine so here are my links for the week with little commentary or explanation!

The Masked AMHP is back with another part of his series on Mental Health Tribunals.

JaeRan Kim has a great post ‘I’m can’t be racist, I have a ______ friend’ about defining and identifying prejudice and the importance of language  use.

For getting a positive feel for the work amid some of the endless negativity, I love Ladybird’s post about ‘Why I blog’ and not only because she mentions me!

Melinda Lewis writes a thoughtful post about use of social media and particularly Facebook to share political opinions.

Related in a broad terms, is Nechakogal’s post about use of media (television) in politics and it’s relevancy in a world where media is changing.

On The Nudge Patrol, Laura shares a fascinating study on social work education in the US. Compare and contrast. The article she has embedded in her post was particularly interesting to me having generally only learnt about the development of social work education from a British viewpoint.

A Case Manager’s Verse covers a classic issue of when a service user/client/patient asks for a new worker.

SocialJerk is back from her break and helps us with some insights into case recording – that part of the job we all love most.

On the subject of honesty, Social Worker Mom shares a post on Craigslist subtitled  ‘A Social Worker finally snaps..’ Scary stuff.

On a lighter note, on Going Mental, Nectarine discusses ‘Foot in Mouth Disease’ – I can definitely empathise there..

How not to do Social Work  reflects  working in residential care in the context of Neil Morrissey’s Care Home Kid.

Do No Harm, a social worker in Singapore has a good post on the ‘battles’ between social work and counselling as disciplines. I think I can extrapolate many of the ideas to other ‘battles’ within the sector – children or adult work etc.

DorleeM at Social Work Career Development has another of her great interviews with a social worker who specialises in eating disorders. They are always worth a read.

Moving back to technology – a little pet love of mine (if you hadn’t guessed!), a mention for The Social Work Tech Blog post on the use of Google Voice with users of our services. It is a great explanation and as soon as Google get a move on any roll the service internationally!

And as a quick addendum, here’s a link to a piece I wrote for the Guardian Local Government Network Blog earlier in the week about social workers using technology.

And that’s it for the week!

Social Media and Social Work Part 3 – Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter is the predominant ‘microblogging’ platform. Microblogging is a form of sharing thoughts, links and messages in short sentences and phrases. Twitter itself restricts updates to 140 characters initially basing itself on the model developed in SMS messaging systems.

Think of it like Facebook’s ‘update’ bar without the rest of Facebook and you might be getting close (indeed, Facebook’s revamps are not entirely coincidental to the success of microblogging). It’s more than telling people what you’re eating for lunch, it  is about sharing links having conversations, getting feedback for ideas and reflecting thoughts in ‘real time’.

There are as many different ways of using Twitter as there are people using it. Initially, I started using Twitter as a kind of ‘RSS feed’ meaning that I followed a lot of organisations such as The Kings Fund, MIND and the Department of Health as well as the BBC  and checked on useful links they would post.

Then, some of the people updating their feeds added a bit more ‘personality’. There might be the odd question of people asking ‘What do you think of this proposal?’ or ‘Here’s a horribly prejudiced article from the Daily Mail – what does everyone else think?’ and it became irresistible to reply.

Then more and more individuals found their way on to build and share links they found interesting and to comment on the links and the articles or just provide a commentary on what was happening and what they were thinking. For me, Twitter comes into its own during ‘live’ events such as when the General Election results were coming in last year or while watching Question Time and you can give a feel of the general thoughts of a wide range of people and the sense of a shared communal commentary.

Twitter allows for public updates and that’s what it was mostly designed for but you can also send messages to specific individuals provided you both follow each other. This allows for greater privacy and interaction on many different ‘layers’.  Twitter also allows for ‘pseudonyms’ and anonymity in a way that Facebook doesn’t.

It’s beauty and it’s success is it’s simplicity. You write a message and publish it. You put @ before someone’s name to reply to them personally and a D before their name to send them a private message.

Ultimately, it’s something that is hard to explain until you try  but the most important thing to remember about Twitter is that although it is still a minority ‘platform’ – a lot of ‘influencers’ use it. That is why it is mentioned on the BBC News and in Newspaper and Magazine articles. People who create and shape opinions use Twitter and it is by far the most effective way to gain a ‘voice’ about what you do and what you want to say.

As well as accessing it through the main website (where you go to sign up), there are various programmes designed specifically to update and manage Twitter. I use Tweetdeck on my home PC  but there are many others. More importantly it is also possible to access via mobile phones which give it an immediacy. As well as text, there are ways that pictures can also be shared.

One proviso I would add is that it is sometimes easy to become complacent to the ‘privacy issues’ when coming to grips with new communication methods. It can seem as if you are having a private conversation with one other person but remember unless you specifically use ‘direct messages’, everyone can see what you write. It isn’t a place to explain in detail the people you might visit during a day at work or to discuss who annoys you at work or the type of people you don’t like working with – particularly if you are remotely identifiable.

As a platform though, I have found that it has richly complemented my blogging. I can have more interaction with readers and other organisations and social workers, users of social work services and carers  around the world immediately. As it is a platform beloved of media, you can often find channels directly to politicians, journalists and people to whom you may not otherwise have contact with and that allows us the power to put our own thoughts across.  I might put ideas on Twitter that wouldn’t make it to a full post or thoughts that come to me during the day but mostly I use it as commentary and reaction. As the user base has grown, I can see an extension of a social work/social care community that has helped me consider situations, thoughts and approaches from different angles.  It has also eased some of the commuter boredom and bus rides/waits between visits during the working day but more than the blogging, possibly because of the ease of access and the low ‘entrance’ barrier, I feel I ‘get to know’ people through the platform.

There are a few conventions that exist on the platform such as the idea of using ‘hashtags’ to ‘tag’ a post or a link. This allows subjects to be ‘collated’ so for example, #bbcqt (BBC Question Time) is a good way of collecting all posts about the latest ‘episode’ or #socialwork if there is a post of interest related to social work. I’m not a great user of hashtags to be honest as I feel they can clutter my view but that’s just me.

Another convention is on Friday to suggest people for others to follow – known as ‘Follow Friday’ and ‘tagged’ with #ff   Again, I’m not too good at actually doing this because I usually want to suggest too many people.

You can follow me here but I have also put together some lists which might be worth following if you are starting out.  Lists are good ways of sifting through some of the potential information overload and organising groups of people into different ‘categories’.

These are my lists which might be good ways of ‘starting out’.

One for Social Work (social workers or issues related to social work)

One for Social Care (broader list of social care campaigners, people and organisations)

One for Mental Health (users, professionals and organisations related to mental health)

One for Politics (journalists, campaigners and organisations related to political views).

Obviously there is some overlap.

Yesterday, I asked on Twitter for suggestions of ways that social workers and social work students found Twitter helpful and here are a selection of their responses

@OSPEuk I use twitter to set tasks/ forward useful info / journals to social work  students &a ct as virtual off site practice educator

@tasha_adley gives those debating entering the profession more of a genuine insight into the career and good reading material

@mzsocialworker1 to “meet” others SWers from all over the world, to build an online peer-support network, to access interesting blogs and SWinfo

@dougaldoug Partly as a news feed (that’s main reason I use twitter generally),partly to get insight into SW’s experiences in a new way

@tostaygold advice & support from peers; I find particularly beneficial as nqsw when finding feet

@andrew_ellery limits feeling isolated. Source of realtime news. Puts sw’s in control of image portrayed 2public. Share international knowlege

@wiggyhug Twitter has helped me to connect with other social workers who want to harness social media= so I’m less isolated. + I feel more informed

@lizzydripping to share and access interesting documents and news, peer support and contact with people whom i would not have access to

@fluffosaur to find other social workers! to communicate with organisations (@tactcare, @natfin1 etc.), event planning

This is a brief guide related to my own use of Twitter but I’d welcome comments about the experiences of others.  If you want to read  more, there is a great article here about  how to use Twitter.

You can read the rest of my series on Social Media and Social Work here.

Part 1 – Blogging

Part 2 – Social bookmarking

Next week, I’ll be looking at Social Networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook and Forums