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

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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.

Riots, Poverty and Assumptions

It would be remiss of me not to mention the rioting that took place in London over the weekend. I work and live in some of the poorer areas of the city and felt, indeed, still feel desperately saddened by some of the pictures and reportage coming from Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton among other places.

I can’t begin to make sense of it. I know the initial trouble grew from anger against the police after the shooting of a local resident last Thursday.

Regardless of the details of the initial spark that lit the tinderbox of malcontent across London, my sense is that it was, for many an excuse to cause trouble.

That isn’t to say there may not be real reasons for anger against the police and against the ‘establishment’ but the way the anger was expressed through mindless violence and looting seemed to indicate that there was also a wish to express anger and rage against lots of other things as well.

The places the riot went, so went the Twitter messages, Facebook posts and groups and the less ‘keyed in’ SMS messages letting others know where to come for random violence. Where to come for looting ‘opportunities’. Where to express ‘anger’ even if sometimes it was unclear what the anger was about or to whom it should be directed. It seems harsh that the ordinary citizens of Tottenham will be the ones to bear the deepest repercussions of the violence and aggression – for whatever reasons.

This morning I was listening to the radio. I heard the host say, ironically I suspect that the people of Tottenham deserved this for not ‘parenting their children’ correctly. For allowing their children to run wild. He said, again, I think it was intended to be ironically – ‘Where were their parents? Or rather, where were their mothers as I’m sure most of them don’t know their fathers’.


Let’s just think about the way that we perceive people who live in poverty and poor areas for a moment.

I’m no sociologist. I have though been living and working cheek by jowl with poverty. It doesn’t make me an expert and I am fortunate enough to say I don’t have a lived experience of poverty. I’ve had periods of debt problems.  I’ve had periods of difficulties.  I lived in a single parent family but I haven’t experienced poverty.

Even so, I think that poverty is not necessarily one of the flames that fuelled the protest.  I think there’s an element of wanting excitement, wanting danger, perhaps even – wanting to change the way things are in society that lead to so many and so much injustice, discrimination and pain.

The ‘order’ of things that makes some people own and other people beg. A governing class that can take fancy foreign holidays while the streets of Tottenham burn.

Then there is the looting. Wanting something for nothing. The politics or rather the sociology of envy. The kinds of programmes that fill our evenings of reality star mania that make fame and wealth so easily accessible without the commensurate effort. Without seeing something grow. Without working.

Without work. That’s another element. Can it be a sheer coincidence that the levels of joblessness around Tottenham are some of the highest in London?

Probably not.

While Cameron holidays in Tuscany and Osbourne enjoys the delights of Disneyland (or DisneyWorld or wherever he is), I genuinely wonder if they can ever understand the fears and concerns of the people of Tottenham.

We’re all in this together?

Sticks a little in the throat to say it while statements are returned to the country from exotic foreign climates.

There needs to be a real effort and a real desire to make this world and this country better.

As for those who proposed, instigated and enjoyed the riots. Those who looted and ruined local communities already hurt by poverty. I hope they are caught and punished. I’m a social liberal and my views tend to drift leftwards but I have no time whatsoever for mindless destruction.

The pictures I’ve seen have been ones of mindless destruction and people enjoying violence. That needs punishment.

As for now, we need to think about these communities. We need to care about the people of Tottenham and places like that. We need to think about the effects of the cuts programmes in areas like this and why the levels of disengagement and disaffection are so high.

We need to heal this city and this country.

No, violence should never ‘win’. Destruction and crime must be punished.

But creating a better community, society and country need to be the goal.

As for today, I’ll share a thought or two with those caught up in the violence, fear and disorder. The people who live in the communities and particularly the people of Tottenham.

I wish them healing and time to build their community back up stronger and better.

Old Media, New Media and the Social Echo Chambers

News of the World

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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

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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.



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I often wondered about  how ‘safe’ it is to write about my work and my profession ‘on the internet’ – primarily in blogs, microblogs (like Twitter) and internet forums and the nature of anonymity as well as the ability that we have, with the growth of communication technologies and as we build different kinds of links to shield ourselves behind a veil of anonymity.  The ability to create and manipulate impressions that others have of us is something that is still at fairly early stages regarding sociological research.  To an extent, as long as I remain anonymous, I can be whoever and whatever I say I am. Having a ‘name’ ensures more credibility. Why don’t I do it then? It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I started using internet forums and has been an underlying part of my blogging process over the last 3 years.

I’m fairly sure that anyone who actually knows me would know enough from what I write here to make a fair guess as to who I am. I am genuinely unsure what the response would be of my management to my writings. I know I haven’t been overly critical of my workplace because, apart from issues and decisions which are not taken locally – like the recruitment freeze which has led to considerably increased pressure on workloads, and the implementation of the personal budgets programme – I genuinely like my work and my managers and the issues I gripe about are not ones that they are responsible for. In fact, mostly the work-related matters that concern me are ones that are broader than our own local authority.

I work in a good team and the people I work with have a good ethos and agenda so this is hardly a ranty  blog – well, I should qualify that the rants are mostly political rather than personal. Generally, I get on well with my colleagues as well and enjoy the work I do.

But, and this is my remaining reservation, I have signed a contract which precludes any contact with media and asks me to direct any enquiries to my employers’ PR team.  How does that relate to ‘self-publishing’ without the conduit of a ‘journalist’ – honestly, I’m not sure but I am sure that local authorities should address these issues as soon as possible as I can’t be the only person thinking it.

I don’t write much about casework and when I do, it is both with details changed considerably and often after a period of time to ensure that confidentiality is respected. This isn’t intended to be a ‘warts and all’ expose’ type blog. That’s possibly why I don’t write about some of the day to day details of my work which I’m sure most readers would find more interesting. Some of the actual day to day work I feel needs to be respected and so I’ll veer away from that.  If I were looking for a ‘book deal’ or alternate career, I have no doubt that I could write about some of the truly unbelievable stuff that occurs in my job on a day to day basis but often it really is a case of fact being stranger than fiction and that is neither respectful nor ethical.

But what does that mean for use of social media? I think that’s the question I would like to know the answer to but don’t feel I can ask. Is it about the nature of my work that makes me reluctant to press my claim to ‘go public’? Possibly. It seems the higher you rise in the ‘hierarchy’ the easier it is to take a claim personally for your own information and voice.  I see independent consultants and academics able to ‘out themselves’ because they have a body of work in their own name. I’m not as far along my ‘career path’ to risk it. I don’t want an alternate career – I’m happy with the one I have and I see having a high profile as being both a disadvantage and a risk in local authority social work.

I have to make difficult decisions in relation to some of my work and some of it is non-consensual. I can impose my decisions on others by the nature of the inherent power in my  job. Would you want someone who makes a decision to admit you to hospital or who discusses an admission to a residential home ‘in your best interests’ or who has made a decision that you don’t have the capacity to make a decision about managing your money or someone who is involved in investigating a safeguarding (abuse) issue to be reflecting online with anyone who might care to listen about the issues that affect you?  Or even if they didn’t discuss it online, would you want to find them and target them if they made a decision you or your family didn’t agree with?

This is the reason for some of my restraint. I am also aware that there may be future situations that I work with where individuals with whom I am working in a professional capacity might ‘Google’ me and wouldn’t want to feel what they are saying would be open to the public gaze.  There is a trust issue ultimately and it may be a reason for there to be the impression of a breach of trust even if none exist. I know I’ve changed the details and information related to any case work I might write about but future people I work with don’t know that.

It’s an interesting and sometimes troubling dichotomy. I want to share the work and information about the work I do because I genuinely think there is a great misunderstanding about what social workers do. I am also aware that by ‘putting my name out there’ I would be subject to vitriolic abuse – I know because I’ve received some fairly impassioned rants even as an  ‘anonymous’ social worker. You can’t get away from the fact that the way this society responds and functions and the role of our job indicates that there will always be some people who hate social workers. Some of them have a lot of resourcefulness to them.

So this is why I remain anonymous. It is to protect my work, myself and my future career. I sometimes feel tempted to ‘break out’ and of course, my anonymity and my insistence on such has led me to refuse some opportunities which would have been interesting to me.

There is a difference between throwing off anonymity when you are at the beginning of your career and throwing off anonymity when you are at the ‘top’ of your career.

Sure, it isn’t the only way to go and depends on the type of work you pick up but it’s not just your current employers that it might affect but all potential employers in the future.

Is it possible to be a ‘famous’ effective social worker in the public sector (without being in a senior management position) in the UK – I don’t think so.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others though.

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

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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

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