Some Practical Advice on Adopting Social Media…

June 6, 2012
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I have had a few conversations in recent weeks with friends, peers, and colleagues who understand the social media hypothesis I have posited in a previous posts—that social media can support  the lifelong learning of healthcare providers. And now many of the folks with whom I have talked are considering dabbling in social media professionally, and they are looking for advice.

To begin I’ve described social media to them as:

I have had a few conversations in recent weeks with friends, peers, and colleagues who understand the social media hypothesis I have posited in a previous posts—that social media can support  the lifelong learning of healthcare providers. And now many of the folks with whom I have talked are considering dabbling in social media professionally, and they are looking for advice.

To begin I’ve described social media to them as:

  • digital channels for sharing user-generated content,
  • an enhanced means of communication, and
  • global channels that allow “word of mouth” to go viral.

While these introductions may be somewhat useful, my recent conversations made it clear that these sound bites don’t provide much practical information. So I felt the need to dig a little deeper to find some practical advice that will actually help people dip their toes confidently into the social media ocean.

So, What Works?

Understand that social media really isn’t a huge, daunting ocean. Think of it more as a pond or swimming hole—and one that you’ve likely swum in already, perhaps without even knowing it.

  • Have you ever posted educational content online or moderated a virtual forum? This is social media.
  • Have you responded to an e-mail from a professional listserv? This is social media.
  • Have you ever read through the comments within LinkedIn user groups? This is social media.
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Understand that you can participate in social media at a pace and level that is comfortable to you—you do not necessarily have to dive into the deep end. Conventional wisdom suggests that in any participatory framework, participation follows the 1-9-90 rule where 1 percent of users are leaders and prime contributors; 9 percent of users contribute occasionally; and 90 percent of users are lurkers. (See this site for more information.) The same holds true for participation in social media: It’s OK to lurk, if that’s what’s comfortable; and occasional participation is still participation.

The main points to understand are that many activities that we commonly participate in actually are social media channels, and that “participation” can be defined in a number of ways.

Take the Social Media Challenge

My next step is to offer them a challenge: in the next 30 days, take these two steps:

  1. Make one professional foray into a new social media channel—and it doesn’t have to be a blog or Facebook or Twitter. If social media channels are entirely foreign to you, find a listserv or some other way to participate that uses a more familiar (but social) format.
  2. Make one attempt to move up to the next level on the participation pyramid. For example, if you already read messages posted to a LinkedIn user group, try posting a question.

To be certain, we are a long way from having definitive data on how great the impact of social media will be on the healthcare professions or on lifelong learning more specifically, but I encourage you to take one small but actionable step a month to draw your own conclusions about the professional value of social media…from what I have recently seen, I am pretty certain you will be surprised by what you find.

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All the best,

Brian