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How nurses can use social media to their advantage

Reinbeck, Donna, PhD, RN, NEA-BC; Antonacci, Jaclyn, MA

doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000554624.05347.6e
Department: TECH NOTES

Donna Reinbeck is an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C., and Jaclyn Antonacci is a social media coordinator at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.

The authors have disclosed no financial relationships related to this article.

THE HAZARDS OF SOCIAL media are well documented and not to be ignored. Significant research has been conducted on the negative aspects of social media in nursing, with numerous published articles addressing ethical concerns and privacy and confidentiality issues. While acknowledging these risks is essential, fear of breaching professional standards can limit the benefits that social media can bring to your nursing practice. Nurses who navigate these challenges and eliminate disclosure risks can use social media to advance professionally.

This article explains how nurses can use social media to enhance nursing practice and unite nurses across the globe. It also breaks down some of the top platforms nurses can use to stay connected and help advance their careers. When using any social media platform, take care to avoid common pitfalls that may jeopardize your employment, licensure, or professional standing (see Using social media responsibly).

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Keeping up with research

Providing evidence-based care based on the latest research is essential for delivering optimal care and supporting best outcomes, yet nurses underutilize library resources and report barriers to obtaining research information.1

Nurses are asked to stay abreast of best practices and cutting-edge research while juggling hectic work schedules and family obligations. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others can be utilized to push relevant, high-impact articles electronically to readers, often before it reaches their mailbox. For nursing scholars, research-sharing platforms such as can help nurses share information and follow top researchers in the field, offering access to top nursing experts as never before. These sites keep nurses abreast of current academic trends and issues in healthcare while promoting a space for discussion, collaboration, and an exchange of ideas. With the growing push to implement international standards throughout the world and standardize best practices based on current evidence, social media networks can quickly communicate current information to a larger audience.

Identifying credible sources on the internet can sometimes be challenging. As with any source, internet information must be vetted for accuracy. Nurses can utilize much of the same criteria used to evaluate any source, including establishing the author's credibility and qualifications and determining whether he or she is affiliated with an academic institution or other credible organization. Readers should also take note if the website is a top-level domain ending in .edu, .gov, or .org. This can help nurses determine the origin of the information and determine whether it is produced by an established publisher, a government agency, or a nonprofit organization. The .com designation indicates commercial websites, which are generally less authoritative. It can also be helpful to evaluate for spelling or grammatical errors and attempt to corroborate the content with other reputable sources.

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A boon for networking

Social media connects nurses with a vast array of professional development resources. Nurses can “like” or follow groups, individuals, and organizations that will provide them with up-to-the-minute information about nursing trends. Organizations such as the CDC, the FDA, and the American Nurses Association frequently post cutting-edge information about research, trends, and news in healthcare and health promotion. Safety alerts, recalls, and drug alerts can be shared quickly and reach a large audience almost instantly. These pages can also serve as a platform that lets nurses join important discussions and exchange ideas and opinions with colleagues from around the world.

A wide range of niche and specialty pages also exist for nurses looking to find information pertaining to their professional interests. From the Oncology Nursing Society to the Philippine Nurses Association, specialty pages offer a wealth of information and connect nurses to communities in their particular area of interest.

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Building your brand

A version of your life story already exists online, whether you know it or not. Nurses need look no further than a Google search to find some type of representation of themselves online. It is possible, and even likely, that an employer will perform such an online search of potential employees before hiring them. In today's world, jobseekers and jobholders need to take ownership of their personal brand.

Whether using social networking profiles for personal or professional purposes, nurses must recognize that the posts, photos, videos, links, and other content they share online reflect their real-life selves. Consequently, they should take ownership of their identities and define who they are online instead of allowing themselves to be defined by whatever comes up in a Google search. Curating your presence on social media platforms, which are often listed among the top of one's search results, is a strong way to take control of the content that appears when your name is searched.

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Popular platforms

To evaluate a candidate for a nursing job, employers may look for the nurse's presence on the following popular social media platforms and other online resources.

  • Facebook. With more than 2.27 billion active users, Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the world.2 It allows users to create and comment on posts as well as share links and content. While Facebook is largely considered a platform for connecting with friends, it is increasingly giving nurses opportunities to connect with professional resources. By “liking” the Facebook pages of organizations of interest, for example, nurses can follow the organizations they care most about.

Joining Facebook groups can be especially beneficial because it lets users connect and network with colleagues in relevant communities in a semiprivate space. Facebook groups can be used to connect based on factors such as nursing specialty, location, association, career advancement, and resource sharing. User-created groups exist for a vast array of nursing topics. Users who do not see their interest represented in an existing group can start a group of their own. The new “Jobs on Facebook” function can connect nurses to job postings from organizations with Facebook pages. Users can fine-tune their search by job type, industry, location, and other parameters, and even apply to job postings from the site.

  • Twitter. With this “microblogging” platform, users can post messages in 280 characters or less. This makes Twitter a useful social network for short-form, timely content that can be shared rapidly—a tactic that is especially useful in a fast-paced profession like nursing. Nurses can utilize Twitter to follow notable individuals, discover the latest on trending topics, and create and share content of interest. Nurses who add Twitter to their communications toolkit can foster worldwide networking opportunities and establish themselves as public thought leaders.

One of Twitter's most powerful tools is the hashtag, a user-generated link that can be added to tweets as a way to connect users to a global conversation surrounding a local, global, or trending topic. Hashtags help make it easy for people to find, follow, and contribute to a conversation. For example, a nurse looking to discuss a new article about nursing burnout with peers could use the #NursingBurnout hashtag to reach a wider audience. Similarly, a nurse who is interested in learning more about a topic, such as a new graduate looking for advice from experienced experts, could search through the #TipsForNewNurses hashtag to browse real-time conversations.

Hashtags are also playing an increasingly prominent role in conferences and professional gatherings. Today, many conferences provide attendees with an official hashtag that can be used to connect, network, and discuss conference topics beyond the confines of the physical event space. A conference-wide hashtag allows attendees to find and share thoughts on panels, lectures, and presentations. This creates opportunities for nurses in attendance to contribute to the hashtag, initiate ideas, and establish themselves as innovators and experts in the field. Following a fellow attendee on social media can also help extend conversations and create lasting relationships, and nurses who could not attend the conference can pick up on main points, stay connected, and join the conversation.

  • LinkedIn. While LinkedIn shares similarities with Facebook, this platform is geared toward professionals and is an ideal tool for jobseekers. Originally designed as a portal for prospective job applicants, LinkedIn has developed into a social network where professionals of all levels can connect and build relationships. Because LinkedIn is primarily a tool for networking, business discussions, and sharing of industry news and professional updates, it is ideal for connecting users with job opportunities or projects. A user should make “connections” with current and former coworkers, academic associates, and other professionals in their field. As on Facebook, members can join groups of unique communities to connect and network with like-minded professionals from around the world.

LinkedIn profiles should serve as a “highlight reel” for professionals, where nurses can share everything from their work history to their professional accolades to their academic publications. Therefore, a LinkedIn user should fill out a profile that is focused on the details of their educational and professional experience and accomplishments. LinkedIn offers a robust job search function that connects applicants to potential opportunities based on a wide array of features, including location, experience, and qualifications. Further, LinkedIn gives users in-depth information about companies, including the identification of a user's connections who are currently or were formerly employed at that company.

  • Blogging sites. Nurses can use blogging to inform, support, and inspire others and help build a nursing community that validates nurses' challenges and experiences. Nurses looking to build a professional presence and establish themselves as thought leaders can utilize blogging as a way to share perspectives and opinions from their unique point of view. Some nursing bloggers take a niche topic and dissect it weekly. Others offer career advice and motivation. Nurses looking to start a blog should consider what unique qualities or perspectives they have to offer might set their blog apart. Popular blogging sites such as Medium, WordPress, or Blogger make creating a blog simple and user-friendly.
  • YouTube. Technologically savvy nurses might also consider YouTube to grow their brand. This video-sharing platform can also be used to connect with other nurses and watch videos on various nursing topics. One particularly popular video genre on YouTube is “vlogging”—short for video blogging. Using the YouTube platform, nurses can upload and share video content that is informative, useful, inspirational, or entertaining. While many individuals create their own personal content, organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Mayo Clinic also use YouTube to share video content containing news, lectures, and interviews with healthcare experts.
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Harness the power of social media

When used purposefully and responsibly, social media can be an incredibly powerful tool. As nurses look to further their skills in an increasingly global, ever-changing, and technologically driven world, social media can provide resources and services that help to unite nurses and keep them up to date on news, research, and best practices. By taking advantage of tools that allow them to learn, share, and connect in new ways, nurses can utilize social media to advance professionally as leaders in the field.

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Using social media responsibly

Nurses posting on social media or blogging sites should know and follow their organization's policies and procedures about social media use and take care not to violate the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Never divulge patent-related information on social media or in a blog or public forum, and do not take and post unauthorized photos or videos of patients or their families. Breaches of privacy can also occur when a nurse describes a patient using enough detail that the patient can be identified.3

In addition, posting inappropriate or unprofessional content on social media can be grounds for firing, even if the content is not work-related. For example, a breach of patient confidentiality, whether intentional or unintentional, such as posting photos or negative comments about patients or disclosing names of patients, can lead to termination. In addition, posting negative comments about your workplace, coworkers, or employers that may be considered unprofessional could lead to dismissal. Nurses who fail to take the necessary precautions and follow their organization's guidelines could also face licensing and/or legal problems.4 However, for nurses who use social media responsibly, the positives can outweigh the negatives.

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1. Sleutel MR, Bullion JW, Sullivan R. Tools of the trade: improving nurses' ability to access and evaluate research. J Nurs Manag. 2018;26(2):167–171.
2. Smith A, Anderson M. Social Media Use in 2018. Pew Research Center. 2018.
3. National Council of State Boards of Nursing. A nurse's guide to the use of social media. 2018.
4. National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Social media guidelines for nurses. 2011.
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