Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Social (Net) Workers

There can be few social care professionals not aware of the popularity of social networking technologies such as Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook – and some may even have put a toe in the social media water.

But how many recognise the enormous possibilities these technologies present to our sector? After all, they make available for all frontline social workers and social care managers the ability to have more relevant discussions with colleagues and with the communities they serve.

They offer a less intimidating, people friendly and very affordable way of engagement. As an antidote to loneliness and isolation – professional or personal - they offer a new and panoramic window to practitioner, manager and service user alike.

Perhaps you can see a need to move forward here. What would be a good first step? Here are my top tips for starting to embrace these technologies.

  • Get together a social networking roadmap that will clearly identify social networking sites that could be usefully embraced by your team. Each site should have a realistic description of the benefits, current and future risks your employees could open you up to
  • Start with some form of survey or assessment of current social networking practices and if possible, future needs too. A policy that does not fit the actual circumstances of your organisation will be ignored - and thus do more harm than good
  • A Facebook ‘Page’ can be set up for your organisation, similar to a personal profile. People will ‘Like’ your ‘Page’ and this will show in their individual News feeds and will promote your organisation: you can import a database of names and invite people to join up and ‘Like’ you, so include your workforce, partners, influencers and so on. Think carefully about the information you post there. Don’t make it too text heavy, don’t use very formal language and try and use multi-media regularly to add interest
  • On Twitter, you need to follow people in order to have interesting tweets to comment on and to get the latest industry news. Mix it up – choose Twitterers from your personal and professional life. Check the profiles of people who are following others who you follow. Follow at least 30 people to get a lively home page. Then start posting your updates. Don't expect many to follow you immediately
  • One, perhaps often overlooked benefit of using Twitter, is how good an informational digest it provides. In that sense, it’s less about what you can bring to the conversation, but instead provides (very much like the RSS feeds of old) lots of very short snippets of news from a wide variety of sources. Some of the ‘news’ is not news as we would know it – and a lot of it can be extremely funny, moving and entertaining. Judge for yourself!
  • LinkedIn operates as the equivalent of business card system and it’s an ideal way to keep in touch with or do research on your peers, people you’ve met at events, key people in social work, and so on. As well as having your individual profile, note that your organisation may also have a presence. Such a profile can tell people a little more about the work you do and the value you add. It also links to the profiles of all your staff, providing another way for your clients, service users and job seekers to connect with you on a professional level
  • Be warned that Facebook and Twitter – and even LinkedIn – are not the place for safe, slick public sector communications. People want to hear what the Head of Social Services at X council thinks – but not the emasculated ‘official’ version – but the message that sounds like it’s from the heart. That’s what will engage people…
  • Don’t forget to offer frequent training regarding these technologies and the organisation's approach to social networking. Insist that employees think before they click, tweet or post! State unequivocally that employees must comply with all policies covering confidential information.

What's not to 'Like' about social media in the social care sector, in other words?

Vic Citarella’s twitter address is @cpeanose


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