5 things to consider if you’re using social media in the NHS

Recently I’ve been getting involved in the @nhssm Twitter chats every Wednesday between 8-9pm on the hashtag #nhssm. I’ve been tweeting a long and I’ve even hosted a couple –each time that hour has brought a huge amount of learning about what people are doing with social media within the NHS – I’ve put together a Storify for each Twitter chat this year and you can see them here. While there is some great stuff being done on social media, not everyone is there and online yet, so it got me thinking about some of the most important things to think about when getting online.

Here are 5 things that I think are important to consider when you’re using social media in the NHS, whether that’s personally or as an organisation.

1. Why do you want to be on there?

Firstly, and possibly most importantly, what are your motives for being on social media? Are you looking to learn, share and connect with like-minded people? Are you thinking of news ways to connect with people that matter to your organisation and tell your story? Are you looking to talk to the people that matter to you in a place that they have chosen? Great, these are good reasons for wanting to join conversations online. If it’s just because everyone else is doing it, that’s not a good place to start. Being curious is great, but you need to know why you want to be on social media and how you or your organisation can contribute to conversations in relevant ways.

2. Are you willing to listen?

An easy one. It’s called social media for a reason, it’s not about broadcasting, you’re in a two-way conversation online. Just think of the benefits you can get from listening; new connections, more opportunities to learn and loads of ideas, to name a few. You are talking to people on social media, just like in everyday life and just because the platform on which you’re communicating changes changes, how you act shouldn’t. If you’re not listening on social media, you won’t be seeing the full benefits it can bring. Here’s a great example of an NHS trust listening to patient feedback they have received and using social media to share it more widely.

3. Are you talking to the right people in the right places?

Social media platforms attract huge audiences – there are over 15 million twitter users in the UK alone. This figure means there are people talking about a variety of things all over the world, so how do you know if you’re going to be relevant on the platforms you have chosen? Do you cast your net wide or do you build it and hope that they will come? If you’re online as your organisation, are you talking to your patients, your staff or both? Guess what? You have to be willing to listen and adapt to what your audience want. A good place to start is with what’s probably familiar to you and to most of the people using social media, both personally and as organisations, you guessed it: Facebook and Twitter. Start simple, make connections, build audiences, ask questions and adapt. If you use a lot of photos, Instagram or Flickr might be the best place to tell your story, if you love video, then perhaps it’s YouTube or Vimeo, which leads onto the next point…

4. Are you willing to experiment?

Social media is fast-paced and constantly changing. It looked a lot different two years ago and no doubt it will look different again in two years time. You can’t be afraid to experiment and try new things – they don’t have to be completely new ideas, they can just be new for you. Think that blogging might be a good way to make your organisation more transparent and explain complex issues? Why not give it a go? It’s not ground-breaking, but it might open up new doors and new conversations. If you aren’t willing to try new things (and fail) then you’re likely to get left behind. Take a look at what people are trying out on social media in 2015 in this Storify I did for the #nhssm chat and see how one public sector organisation has experimented with using social media for internal communications.

5. Don’t let it slip

Once you’ve established your presence online and worked on your tone of voice, your areas of interest and started making connections with communities that value your input, don’t let your activity and passion for social media slip. We’ve already explored that social media is constantly adapting, and while it’s true that social media is by no means the be all and end all of communicating with people, it’s important you’re giving it the attention it deserves. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

What would you add to the list? Do you have things to consider when getting online? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me @willdotbarker.

photo : Tim Parkinson

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6 thoughts on “5 things to consider if you’re using social media in the NHS

  1. Great post! Brill point about thinking about the nature of the content you’re sharing, it’s very easy to get drawn into platforms for the sake of it, without thinking about whether you have good content to share. That can also lead into spreading yourself too thinly, leaving organisations unable to make the most of what they’re good at. Cheers for the link to our blogpost as well!

    – Dyfrig

  2. Thanks Dyfrig and no problem, was a great post about Yammer.

    Absolutely, should always be a relevant reason you’re on a platform that’s going to benefit your desired audience and also your organisation. Can be as simple as reaching people on a new platform that makes sense to be on, but as you said, no point being on something for the sake of being on something.

  3. Considering why you want to be using Twitter is central to your activities on Twitter. Could you put into a tweet why you want your organisation , club , patient group or Buisness to be on Twitter ?

    I’ve learnt most of my social media stuff via the Social Media Examiner podcast. It’s aimed at businesses that want to make use of “social media marketing” – as I work in health , I consider myself to be in the “selling health & behaviour change” Buisness ( amongst other roles )

    What can we learn from how big businesses use advertising? How can we nurture & support our local organisations , or at least give them a boost up when they are promoting an event , social or sale. #PendleConnect is one idea I’m trying to promote locally. #nhssm

    • Thanks for your comments – great additions. I think that the NHS can learn lots from other sectors using social media, third sector organisations have great examples of how to talk to patients and public in online communities and nurture their support, as well as being innovative and experimenting with new social platforms on little or no budget. Like the idea of putting why you should be on social media in a tweet.

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