The dos and don’ts: social media for social workers

Case studies about the new guidance from the HCPC on social media use for professionals

Photo: alexkich/fotolia
Photo: alexkich/fotolia

This week, The Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) published social media guidance for social workers in England and the other 15 professions it regulates.

As well as top tips on how professionals should approach using social media in a way that prevents them being referred for misconduct, the regulator also published case studies of positive and negative uses of social media.

Here are the key messages of those cases.

Developing and sharing skills, and networking with other professionals

In a positive use of social media, the HCPC gives the example of a professional creating a private Facebook group for her and friends in the same role to replicate a training experience.

In the group, professionals share practice updates, professional contacts and discuss best practice.

The group is kept private to prevent the discussion moving into her personal social media feed, and to avoid impeding the sensitive nature of the work by having non-professionals become involved. Interactions are done with a professional tone, and practitioners are mindful not to use identifiable or confidential details.

The HCPC said this practice would enable a practitioner to develop professional skills and build a network of professional contacts to help them in future work.

When social media use turns to cyber bullying

In an example of how social media should not be used, a professional not on good terms with colleagues in her workplace complains about them on social media to friends and family.

These posts do not attempt to hide who she or her colleagues are, and include inappropriate comments about co-workers, at times using derogatory and abusive language. Mutual connections mean colleagues can access the posts, as the professonal’s social media profile is publicly available.

When she is challenged about this on social media, she directly uses derogatory language to a colleague. Service users have searched this colleague’s name, found the negative posts about her and raised concerns about them – making the colleague  fear she has lost the trust of service users as a result of the online posts.

While the professional who made the derogatory comments says this is a personal matter, unrelated to work, her manager sees it differently, carrying out a full disciplinary investigation and referring the case to the HCPC, which the regulator said would lead to a fitness to practise investigation.

Engaging with the public about what they do

In another positive example of how to use social media, the HCPC outlines how a professional could set up a Twitter account under his professional title and use it to follow and interact with others.

The practitioner then uses the platform to post general information relating to his practice, targeting areas of interest to service users. This includes ‘myth busters’ and sharing articles relating to new research and best practices of interest.

He doesn’t use it to discuss service users’ care, but encourages members of the public and those who use the service to approach him online when they have general questions about the area of practice.

The HCPC said in this example  service users and professionals would benefit from this use of social media, as service users would be able to get a better understanding of professionals’ roles, and this could potentially improve professional relationships.

When social media use breaches service user confidentiality

In another example of how social media should not be used, a professional posts photos of himself from his workplace, and also shares details of particular cases. The posts do not attempt to hide service users’ identities even if their faces cannot be seen in the photos.

Confidential information, including service users’ names and addresses, is visible in the background of the photos, and, as the posts are geo-tagged, members of the public will know where the photos are taken.

The practitioner believes he is only sharing these photos with friends, and therefore they do not pose a risk to confidentiality, but his Facebook settings are set to public, and so a member of the public may be able to identify service users from find the pictures and use them.

A friend of the professional sees a post and believes it might be one of the friend’s co-workers, who he then tags in the post. This person sees it and considers it a breach of confidentiality, and makes a formal complaint to the HCPC.

The important point in this case is that despite no intent to breach confidentiality, the HCPC would open an investigation over concerns about the inappropriate nature of the posts.

Raising the profile of the profession

A final positive example features a practitioner aiming to raise the profile of his profession by co-ordinating a campaign with his employer to encourage more people into the role and inform the public about what it involves.

His use of social media includes blogging and YouTube to share experiences. His blogs include personal thoughts on practice issues, anecdotes from practice and difficulties he has encountered. He keeps cases anonymous, changing certain facts to protect services users from identification.

He uses YouTube with his employer to create short pieces to camera, responding to questions about the profession, and conducts ‘Twitter chats’ about the role.

The HCPC said this use of social media would aid a campaign to raise the profile of the profession gain more traction and reach a wider range of people, while also helping others learn more about the role.

The HCPC will be hosting a tweetchat about the new guidance on Tuesday 12 September at 6.30pm.

Register now for Community Care Live London for two days of free and essential learning to boost your CPD, sharpen your legal knowledge and improve your practice, on 26-27 September.

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