You are what you tweet – this play on words from @Patient_Leader, with whom I am delivering a session at the NHS Expo Pop-up University on Monday 3 March, got me thinking about the part social media can play in enabling all of us who are part of the NHS to be more sociable. What might we sew and what might we reap? Are we what we tweet?
Missing the point
If we think about social media platforms, such as Twitter, as simply tools for communications or marketing; if we think about them in terms of an opportunity to broadcast information, if we deride people for tweeting a picture of their lunch or sharing the incidentals of their everyday life, then I think we’ve missed the point.
I’d like to suggest that a better approach to thinking about social media is in terms of social capital.
Social capital, put very simply, is the benefit we get from our relationships. We tend to have a mixture of strong and loose ties in our relationships. Strong ties might be with our family and close friends (called bonding social capital). Loose ties might be with our neighbours, colleagues or people we have a chat with when walking the dog or at the school gates (called bridging social capital). The greater our social capital the stronger our health and wellbeing, the more we are able to reach our potential, and the more we can get things done.
Relationships are as much about seeking commonality, sharing details of our everyday life and thoughts, as much as they are about sharing resources – a ‘picture of my lunch’ tweet seems less superficial in this context.
Social capital and social networks
This paper on social capital, self-esteem and social networks shows results of a study into young people’s use of Facebook. The researchers found that Facebook afforded young people with lower self-esteem the ability to form diverse networks which are a feature of bridging social capital.
This resonated with me – early findings from my PhD interviews have a similar theme – social media platforms are being used by people accessing services and professionals for bridging social capital – getting information, connecting with others, offering and receiving help.
One of the themes I’ve been most struck by in my interviews is that people accessing mental health and services and professionals have both reported increased understanding and empathy with each other as a result of interacting on Twitter. For professionals it is about seeing beyond the diagnosis; for people accessing services it is about appreciating that there is a person behind the name badge. This could also be seen as an example of linking social capital – connections between people in dissimilar situations (whilst appreciating that we may be both receivers and providers of care).
What does this mean for a #socialNHS?
I wonder if thinking about social media in terms of relationships means that we’re less likely to broadcast and more likely to offer help as well ask for it – the building blocks of social capital not only for ourselves but for others. On a personal note, I’m continuously amazed by the generosity and kindness shown by many people in my Twitter ecosystem, and as it grows it gives me access to increasingly diverse networks and connections. We can each play a part in our NHS becoming increasingly social, more connected and making a contribution to social capital. For many of us, online social networks will increasingly play a part.
If you are a social media newbie and would like an opportunity to find out more then do come along to our session at the NHS Expo Pop up University.
Please can you help?
In advance of the session, we’d love to hear your 140 character stories of social media and social capital that we can share during the session – anything from positive stories or reservations you may have. Please tweet them using the hashtag #socialNHS and we’ll share them with the audience – you’ll be helping us build our social capital and demonstrating to the audience just how powerful Twitter can be 🙂