If you thought social media was just for kids, think again. The intensity and pervasiveness of social media and the cyber world can't be ignored. With four generations of nursing staff—from the youngest staff members the millennials, who've rarely been without instant connectivity to information and communication, to the baby boomers—social media can and must be used successfully by nurse managers or we risk becoming the dreaded "dinosaur" and possibly even inadequate leaders.
Social media pros and cons
By now nurse managers are very familiar with basic unidirectional e-mail, use of online search engines, and even straightforward texting. Although that may seem techno-savvy to some tenured nurse managers, it's relatively simple compared with the interactive and multidimensional networking of current web 2.0 technology. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube allow you to create a social web with a wide network. A response to a question or article on a website is immediately posted for the world to see. Multiple nursing networking communities are available. What's different in the world of social media is the interactive nature of information sharing. Blogging and online discussion boards allow for direct disclosure of feelings, facts, and thoughts with immediate unfiltered feedback.1–3 Online marketing, imaging, and messaging reaches everyone all the time. This, of course, has its pros and cons.
Living in the information age with online resources at our fingertips has benefits, although information overload can be a troublesome affliction. The ability to quickly respond, share, and network through discussion groups, personal pages, and Internet forums allows us to have a nursing community on our computers. This enhances the nursing narrative and provides an opportunity to enhance nursing's image.4
Therefore, it comes with the responsibility to ensure that our stories reflect our profession wisely and appropriately. Our millennial-generation staff members are experts and use social media to find out what it's really like to work at an organization, share their day with their friends, and research information. We can learn from these staff members to maximize our understanding of the power of web 2.0 technology. It's even possible to work with your information technology department to develop a unit home page.5
The unpredictable and spontaneous nature of social networks and blogs may add authentic content, but from a managerial perspective, it also adds risk. We have the opportunity to tell our story, but are inappropriate details or thoughts being shared? It can be distressing to read through an open forum and see angry rantings, disillusionment, colleague-bashing, or even confidential patient information being shared online.
The importance of organizational policy is paramount. IBM's interim social media policy was "Don't do anything stupid."6 Multiple departments, such as legal, human resources, and compliance, will have input into organizational policy pertaining to social media. Sharing the policy and boundaries to be abided should be done during orientation and for all incumbent staff. The critical points to address are avoidance of violations of patient confidentiality, slander, and most likely anything that destroys public confidence in the organization. Another area to address is permission to use an organization e-mail address; for example, Mayo Clinic employees must use their personal e-mail when posting on social media sites. What's acceptable to post is really about common sense.7
Changing the face of an organization
Marketing and recruitment are being revolutionized by social media. Career pages and organization websites are adding videos, testimonials, Facebook links, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, and more. These cyber additions are still scripted, and it becomes more complex when you add user-generated and interactional content to the conversation, as in an organizational LinkedIn page, blog site, or online chat room. Clearly, a job-seeker can get much more information using web 2.0 technology than through traditional print ads or stale websites.
An organizational community can be promoted through an administrator's blog—maybe even the CNO—with subsequent posted comments for all to see and digest. This is a valuable approach to communication and can be more substantive than distributing paper newsletters with no feedback. However, this active approach does require more work to develop and follow up, the benefits being a forum for staff relationship building with direct reactions. An example is Ohio State University Medical Center's CEO, who posts a weekly video blog.5
Patients and families may use accessible social media forums to blog or comment about their experience at your facility. This can provide valuable feedback, both positive and negative. The organization should be vigilant to negative posts from both the recruitment and consumer point of view. Unfortunately, you can't control the conversations. It's disconcerting because there's nothing you can do about those negative posts unless you can identify the writer and do some service recovery. Staff should be held accountable to your organizational policy as described earlier. Transparency has taken on a deeper, more personal nature.
Education has also been enhanced by web 2.0 technology, allowing for "classroom" discussions online and in Facebook school communities.8 Every level of nursing education benefits from these virtual classes and groups, from entry level to doctoral programs. Web-based learning is already a proven strategy, as well as technology-enhanced simulation learning. The days of textbooks and face-to-face classes are becoming surprisingly old-fashioned.
More nursing implications
Twitter, the microblog with a maximum of 140 characters per "tweet," can have many nursing applications.9 Besides being able to search for what's being said about nursing, it holds a lot of potential as an effective communication tool. A nursing website blog, "101 Ways to Use Twitter in Your Hospital," demonstrates the multiple benefits from this form of social media.10 Here are just some of the uses identified:
- send follow-up reminders to patients
- alert your patient's driver when he or she is ready to be picked up
- share photos of events
- send Amber Alerts
- promote blood drives
- send staff meeting reminders
- post articles for peer review
- send public safety announcements
- share disaster alerts.
A desire to keep your personal and professional lives separate in these social networks isn't easy and is sometimes out of your control. Our personal likes, values, and activities can be gleaned from looking at our online profiles: what social networks you join, what comments you post, what photos you upload, and what a Google search for you reveals. It's already hard technologically not to merge work and home life due to smart phones and remote e-mail access, although nurse managers have always combined work and home through 24/7 phone communication and lugging home paperwork!
We live in a fast-paced and dynamic world of information. A cartoon from Scott Stantis says it all:
Setting: A family at the breakfast table with a mom reading the newspaper, a teen on his laptop, and a grade-schooler on his smart phone
Mom: "The newspaper says they may stop delivering letters on Saturday."
Teen: "What's a newspaper?"
Grade-schooler: "What's a letter?"11
Embrace the technology age. As nurse managers we should stay connected and that now includes social media and web 2.0 technology.