Social media should be an essential part of new social workers’ toolkits

Digital media enables professionals to communicate more effectively with service users and each other

Claudia Megele, senior lecturer, Middlesex University, and head of practice learning, Enfield council

Guardian Professional,

As social media becomes more ingrained in society, so its adoption and acceptance in social work and social care will become more normalised. Photograph: Jens Kalaene/dpa/Corbis

From production and management of services to workforce development and community engagement strategy, local authorities and councillors are exploring the potential of digital media for co-production and enhancement of services. The fast pace of technology means greater and more powerful means of collaboration and transformation of services and the workforce.

However, we also need to be aware of potential knowledge gaps that could affect both the workforce and the users of services. Indeed, as noted in Ruth Hardy’s recent article Social care meets social media – what’s holding the sector back?, the social care sector has shown a certain amount of apprehension when it comes to adopting social media technology.

In my experience, the main concerns around use of social media in social care and social work focus on confidentiality, privacy and managing information sensitively. There is also the fear that new technologies may lead to isolation, loneliness and dehumanised services. However, technology is not a zero-sum game, and doesn’t have to be used at the expense of other services.

When used well, technology should complement rather than replace services, and should offer greater inclusion by increasing reach. Consider the case of Stephanie Shine, a practising nurse at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Last year, Shine’s baby was delivered three and half months early and was kept in a newborn intensive-care unit for 101 days. Shine waited 18 hours before she could see her baby for the first time and reflected on how Google Glass could have been used in those initial 18 hours to ease some of her apprehensions and fears.

The use of Google Glass could have allowed her to see her baby as he was nursed, held and fed. In fact, it is her familiarity with the mental and emotional stress that women experience when separated from their babies, for hours or sometimes days, during the post-delivery process that motivated her exploration of how new technology could improve communication and the experience of users of services in hospitals.

Shine isn’t the only healthcare professional considering how wearable technology can transform the sector. Earlier this year, Google Glass transformed a surgical procedure into an interactive learning opportunity for about 13,000 surgical students from across 115 countries.

As social media becomes more ingrained in society, so its adoption and acceptance in social work and social care will become more normalised. It is crucial therefore that newly qualified social workers are encouraged to cultivate their digital skills and consider the ethical implications of using social media as an engagement and advocacy tool.

I believe that by supporting each other to become more confident with our use of digital media, we will be able to communicate more effectively with our service users and work to combat new forms of inequality and harm such as the digital divide, digital isolation and cyberbullying.

With this in mind I am working with the North West London Partnership of local authorities to embed social media in the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) training and education programme. Some of the aims of this project include enhancing the participants’ communication skills, digital literacy, e-professionalism and co-production of services, while examining how social media can amplify vulnerabilities.

As part of this initiative there will be a live Twitter chat to enable ASYE participants to use their digital skills and engage with regulator the Health and Care Professions Council on renewal of registration and its continuing professional development audit. The chat is hosted by @SWSCmedia with @The_HCPC on Tuesday 9 September 2014 from 3pm until 4pm, with the hashtag #SWSCmedia.

The chief social worker for adults, Lyn Romeo, has created a special video message for the project. We hope you can join us on the day and celebrate social work and its uniqueness while looking to the future and considering how we can use digital and social media more effectively to better support both our users of services and each other.