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Social Media: Starting Your Journey in the Great Frontier

Schoenly, Lorry

Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association: May/June 2012 - Volume 4 - Issue 3 - p 175–178
doi: 10.1097/JDN.0b013e31825627de
Feature Article

ABSTRACT Exploring the unknown world of social media can be likened to a journey into the unknown territories west of the Mississippi River of long ago. Like Lewis and Clark, nurses entering social networking communities are likely to discover exciting new treasures and experiences. Preparing for such a journey requires developing an appreciation of geography and language. This article provides a framework for understanding Web 2.0, social media, and networking. Popular social network sites are compared and terminologies are defined. Suggestions for successfully navigating the territory and remaining professional are provided.

Lorry Schoenly, PhD, RN, CCHP-RN, Graduate Nursing Program, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Downers Grove, Illinois.

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lorry Schoenly, PhD, RN, CCHP-RN. E-mail:

Social networking may seem a strange new world full of unknown people and places. The natives use unfamiliar terms like tweeps and hashtags while talking about unusual activities such as lurking and blogging. But stories are shared about finding treasures such as a fantastic new job or discovering a rich goldmine of ideas and information. It can be difficult to discern whether to venture out into the wild frontier or remain in the comfort of familiar territory. Many nurses are wondering if they should venture out into this great frontier.

Lewis and Clark set out to map the great unknown region of the Pacific Northwest with their Corp of Discovery crew. They created more than 140 maps and documented more than 200 new plants and animals during the journey. In addition, they met with at least 72 native tribes (Uldrich, 2004). They blazed a trail into an area full of beauty and resources. Traveling into the new world of social media can open similar new experiences.

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Web 2.0: The Great Frontier

A geography analogy can be helpful in understanding the current evolution of Internet use. Web 1.0, the original Internet, was a static place, much like a map. It held information that could be read and understood but did not allow much collaboration or conversation. Static Web sites holding information about healthcare centers or providing electronic versions of professional journals or their table of contents are examples of Web 1.0 artifacts.

By contrast, Web 2.0, the next generation of Internet functionality, is better described as moving into the frontier described on the map. Web 2.0 is an interactive network of communities of individuals who share their lives and information with each other as they journey together. Table 1 compares Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 functionality.



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A Brief History of Social Media

Social media is one component of Web 2.0 with specific advantages for collaboration and information sharing. Social media combines principles of social networking with the technology advancements of new media (Fraser, 2011). This turbo-charges the traditional networking methods of exchanging business cards and developing professional contacts in the course of a career. Over the last 4 decades, social media has evolved from the first commercial Internet service in 1969 (CompuServe) and the first delivered e-mail in 1971 to a network that can be accessed from virtually anywhere and at anytime (Curtis, 2011). With the advent of instant messaging and texting, communication can be at the speed of conversation and as flexible as needed to meet individual lifestyles. Electronic publishing options such as e-Books, PDF formats, and blogs allow individuals to share information without need of gatekeepers, such as traditional print publishers.

Social networking, a subculture of social media, allows personal and professional community development on the Internet. Although there are dozens of networking platforms available, the four most popular resources are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and the newest member, Google+. Key features of these four networking locations are provided in Table 2. Many nurse professionals have a presence on all four platforms and cross post to these platforms through a single posting resource.



When entering a new territory, it is helpful to know some of the common terms used in the language. Bonsall and Schoenly (2012) defines common terms used in social networking circles. Follow, like, and friend are the common ways in which individuals make connections in social media. The main difference is in reciprocity. For example, following an individual is a one-way connection. The person may or may not follow back. Like is a mechanism for joining a community around an activity, organization, or group. If an organization has a page on Facebook, individuals can access the regular updates of group activities by clicking on the “like” button. Like is also a one-way connection. Friending, however, is a two-way communication. A mutual agreement is made that each individual will accept the posts of the other into their newsfeed. A friend request must be made and accepted to be activated. By following, liking, and friending, individuals create their own specialized community of people and sources that meet their specific interests and needs.



Why enter the new and unknown territory of social networking? The American Nurses Association identified social networking risks and benefits for professional nurses (Table 3). Electronic communication opens nurses to a greater network of ideas and interactions that can enhance professional development and critical thinking. With attention to risk reduction, the journey into the developing professional nurse social networking can be vastly rewarding.

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Looking for Maps and Journals

When headed into new territory, it can be a good idea to get advice and information from fellow travelers who have been on the terrain for a while. Many nurses are now using social networking for professional contacts and information curation. There are many ways to find nurse trailblazers and begin following credible nursing associations and contacts in the social networking world. An easy place to start is to use a favorite search engine to locate “nurses on Twitter” or “nurses on Facebook.” Most nursing associations such as the American Nurses Association and the Dermatology Nurses Association have a presence on major social networks. One can follow, like, and friend a group of professional resources to see how they are using the medium to advance nursing and provide information to other professionals. Creating a group of journey mentors is one way to quickly develop expertise in a new terrain.

Blogs are another popular way to gain information and meet fellow travelers. Blogs generally fall into two categories: personal journaling and professional information-sharing. Some nursing blogs include both. Nurse bloggers can be found by Internet search or collected through random social media contacts. Subscribing to a blog feed allows for regular e-mail notification when a new post is available.

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Heading into a western town can bring both comfort and peril. Nurses moving into various social network communities need to remain vigilant to determine friend and foe along the way. Here are a few social networking outposts to consider.

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Trading Posts

Trading in goods and services is a major way of doing business in the frontier towns of the Internet. Online shopping is a popular place to start on the Internet, as the popularity of sites such as eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist confirm. Shoppers now use mobile devices to do real-time price checking while in stores. A full 30% of online purchases, according to one study, were made from a store location (Rao, 2011). Social media sites allow consumers to comment on and rate their shopping experiences. A personal recommendation of a trusted friend can significantly affect purchasing (Stratten, 2010).

Locating employment can also be assisted by social networking. Making business connections can take place on all major sites, but LinkedIn has focused on the business nature of networking and has become a major source for making employment and client connections (Crompton & Sautter, 2011). With a minimal investment of time, a LinkedIn profile can be created. By providing background, career specifics, and employment interests, nurses are able to begin networking with hundreds of other professionals and appear in searches by top recruiters.

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Saloons and Dance Halls: Beware!

Nursing professionals entering the new territory of social networking should avoid “let it all hang out” postings. Employers, colleagues, professional acquaintances, and patients can, and do, search for personal information online. Opinions can be formed about a nurse’s character and abilities based on social network postings (Stokowski, 2011). It is wise to consider all posts to a social network as public. Caution is warranted when professional reputation is at stake. Balance is needed to manage networking opportunities with personal privacy (Crompton & Sautter, 2011).

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Livery and Guides: Professional Wisdom

A tremendous amount of professional wisdom is disseminated across social networks daily. The challenge for nursing professionals is to create news streams of wisdom curated to individual interests. For example, nurses may wish to follow general nursing news and specialty practice information sources. In addition, local institutions, nursing research, and thought leaders can be followed to create a personalized news stream.

Once entered into a social network, the search is on for professional guides who curate news and information. Watch for profiles of nurses mentioned by others on their newstreams and posts. Follow or friend promising individuals on a trial basis. A relationship can always be severed should it prove unfruitful. Over the course of several months, themes will develop and regular information sources will emerge. Relationships then become strengthened through two-way communication.

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An Individual and a Professional

In all cases, nurses venturing into the wild world of social networking should pause to consider the implications of their professional presence. No matter the privacy settings in place, all information shared in the social community can potentially be public. The best way to maintain privacy of information is to never share it online. Always consider professional image and practice liability when posting to social networking sites. Nurses have garnered top ratings in honesty and ethics in national surveys (Gallop, 2011). This high community standing means that information shared by nurses in the social community is valued and believed. It is important, therefore, to be thoughtful when sharing opinions, being sure that what is shared is valid and can be defended. Nurses on the public Internet must consider that they represent the profession as well as themselves when posting on healthcare issues (National Council of State Boards of Nursing, 2011).

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Controlling Your Journey: Time Management

Like any new endeavor, new members of the social media community must struggle to manage the time spent in learning the technology and developing relationships in this new world. Finding a regular spot in a daily or weekly schedule can be a first step. The advantages of social networking may make this activity of greater benefit than other common relaxation activities such as watching the television. The availability of mobile technology allow social networking activities to take place during idle moments such as waiting in line at the bank or food market, waiting for children in the school parking lot, or waiting for luggage in the airport. Most social media veterans have integrated social networking into their life situations. Those who have trouble reining in time in social relationships may need to set boundaries such as using a timer or establishing rules for engagement. Tools that assist in posting information across multiple networks are available, thus reducing time with repetitive posting.

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View From the Mountain Top

Nurse social media trailblazers stand at the mountain top ahead, surveying the beautiful landscape and calculating a passage to the sparkling sea. They are delighted to have new adventurers on the trail and are willing to share their travel tips and stories. Consider being a part of the future of the nursing profession by setting out on this journey to explore the brave new land of social media.

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              Social Media; Social Networking; Web 2.0

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