Social media has forever changed the way we interact with others and consume information. Consequently, many industries, recognizing the potential benefits of a well-executed social media presence, have incorporated popular social media technologies into their routines, using various platforms to build and strengthen their communities while promoting themselves. The field of social work, with its emphasis on providing support to those in need, has also learned to navigate the world of social media, leveraging its best aspects to connect members of the social work community.
The Benefits of Social Media
The popularity of social media lies in its emphasis on accessibility. Barring certain exceptions, nearly everyone is in reach, making it significantly easier to engage in conversations with people sharing similar interests than it was before the existence of social media websites. For social workers, social media presents numerous opportunities to cultivate a personal network that serves to educate and support. As the National Association of Social Workers and Association of Social Work Boards’ Standards for Technology and Social Media Practice states , “Electronic communication can provide access to information, referral, advocacy services and interpersonal communication.” From professional groups on LinkedIn to Facebook pages for specific organizations, social media engages workers by creating welcoming environments conducive to the exchange of ideas and information.
As real-time communication is one of the hallmarks of social media, social workers often utilize platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to stay abreast of pressing topics. The latest entry on popular social work blogs can be shared and discussed within minutes along with relevant articles from major news publications. Social workers can also harness the often instantaneous communication of social media to learn more about issues relevant to their clients’ specific situations, whether it’s the latest app to use as a component of treatment or to further enhance understanding of a client’s cultural experiences. On a more personal level, social media can help social workers obtain knowledge of topics and developments about to specific cases, which means they can provide better, more inclusive services to their clients.
Proper Use of Social Media
When used properly, social media can be a valuable asset, but if used carelessly, social media can subvert a professional’s efforts. Like other social media users, some social workers fall into the lure of sharing intimate, personal details of their day-to-day activities. By nature of their work, social workers have a hard time extricating their daily personal experiences from those of their clients, and many seek questionable ways to get around established social work ethics without explicitly breaking them. In “Pause Before Posting – Using Social Media Responsibly” from the January/February 2011 issue of Social Work Today, Matthew Robb, MSW, LSCW-C, shares examples of social workers relaying detailed stories concerning their clients while doing the bare minimum to protect their clients’ privacy, such as omitting or changing names and identifying details. In those situations, the absence of the clients’ names almost becomes immaterial because the social workers have, nonetheless, published the personal experiences of others on the Internet for the world to see.
Given the public nature of the Internet and the permanence of its content, professional and personal discretion are of utmost importance when using social media as a social worker. Social media should not be used to vent about or share a client’s story without the client’s permission, regardless of removed or changed details, as it is a gross violation of an extremely personal relationship. Furthermore, such stories do very little to advance the field of social work and tend to be self-serving and exploitive. Rather, social media should be used to empower social workers and others through the development of an engaging community that is eager to share knowledge and offer advice when asked and, most importantly, when needed. For more guidelines on properly using social media, please see the National Association of Social Workers and Association of Social Work Boards’ Standards for Technology and Social Media Practice.