Should social workers use social media?

The debate rages on about whether or not social care staff should be encouraged to use social media. Here, social worker @ermintrude2 ponders the pros and cons

The debate rages on about whether or not social care staff should be encouraged to use social media. Here, social worker @ermintrude2 ponders the pros and cons

The pros

1 Knowledge building

Knowledge isn’t static; it is a work in progress. Since jumping into the social media pool, my knowledge base has expanded exponentially. I now have access to blogs and websites that allow me to read and understand social work in a broader context and allow me to take much more responsibility for my learning and knowledge base.

2 Making connections

I’m a frontline social worker, not a manager, so I don’t have access to social work leaders – or at least, I didn’t until I started to use Twitter. Now, if I say pertinent things, people listen. But it isn’t just about making connections with those who are influential; it is also about making connections with those who use services.

3 Building conversations

One of the real bonuses I’ve noted recently is the way conversations can grow, either through planning or on an improvised basis around particular topics. Facebook and Google+ are good spaces for more extensive discussions to develop. The great thing about any chat that takes place in an open, social space is that it allows anyone, from students to service users, heads of services and practitioners, to join in.

4 Constructing and reinforcing professional identity

Social work suffers from an image problem. Social media offer us – as social workers – an opportunity to really reclaim that image without having to rely on organisations or management to do it for us. We do this by sharing the work we do and emphasising that one individual’s bad experience with a particular social worker does not mean the whole profession is rotten.

5 Building support and resilience

Sometimes it feels as though no one can understand the stresses and pressures of the job as much as someone who is actually doing it. Social media allows us ways to make contact, from home, with other social workers who can share their own knowledge and experiences. We can talk to each other about things we find difficult, while maintaining confidentiality.

The cons

1 Social media is not a panacea

It’s very easy to become carried away and believe that social media and the ability to crowdsource ideas and share problems will provide the answers to all ills. But it doesn’t remove the need for face-to-face communication.

2 Identity

I write anonymously. Others don’t. I am very proud to identify myself as a social worker in real life but on the internet a pseudonym makes me feel more comfortable. With or without the veil of anonymity, remember that what you say reflects not only on you, but on the profession.

3 Confidentiality

It should go without saying that confidentiality should never be breached and, while some networks can seem safe, there is no need to share details of your work. You are on very dangerous ground if you decide you want to tweet some of the details of cases you are working on (unfortunately I have seen it happen).

4 Put the “social” in social media

Remember the social part of social media. It’s more about the quality of connections you make and the way you are able to build conversations into relationships. This can be forgotten sometimes in the rush towards building up lists of friends or followers, but technology is giving us new ways to connect; it is not an end in itself.

5 Personal and professional ethical values

You might have an anonymous identity but that doesn’t exempt you from the code of practice for social workers. The code requires you to respect other people and their rights to privacy, and respect the profession and the type of work you do. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these tools, but do so responsibly.

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@ermintrude2 is a social worker and writer for the Connecting Social Care and Social Media blog

Top social care 100 twitterers

Unsure where to start on Twitter? Don’t worry, Community Care has assembled a list of 100 social care twitterers, which you can start following with a single click. Just go to our Social Care 100 list page, click “follow” and you can keep up to date with all the latest social care chat from the twittersphere. Please remember that everything you post on Twitter is public and can be seen by the world, so be careful not to breach confidentiality by inadvertently identifying someone.

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This article is published in the 10 November 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “To tweet or not to tweet”

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