‘Doing’ social media: Be brave. Be honest. Be human.

I spent last Wednesday in the rather swish surroundings of the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow* at a (free) conference run by the Scottish Health Council (SHC) on ‘eparticipation and the NHS’. The event was billed as an “opportunity for staff in the NHS and other sectors to share their experiences and learn from each other in relation to using social media to develop relationships and dialogue with communities and how to use feedback from patients and communities to improve services“. 

The presentations and workshops were filmed, so I guess they’ll be on the Scottish Health Council website at some point.

Delegates were also asked to give their thoughts about the day in a ‘diary room’ and to list their “hope for social media use in the NHS for 2013“. These will also be shared online. In the meantime, Kenny MacDonald (@marcommskenny) has beaten me to the first blog post about the event. And Ian Watson (@iandubya) has done some Storifying of the tweets (hashtag #SHCevent). And here – with a little help from the event tweeters – are some thoughts from moi…

After the introductions (and ubiqutious tech problems!), we started the day with a very honest, human and brave session from Michael Seres (@mjseres), who’d travelled quite a distance to share his experiences of using social media as a patient. After coping for many years with Crohn’s Disease and then intestinal failure, Michael underwent a small bowel transplant. The blog Michael uses to document his experiences has proved to be a well used resource for information and support to people with similar health issues. He mentioned how he was able to help someone in Elgin with similar problems (who contacted him via his blog) get a consultation that he wasn’t able to get via his own health service. And Michael’s own medical team have found the blog really useful in tracking his progress.

One of the most striking images I’ve seen for some time was Michael’s photograph of his stoma, which he has pinned on Pinterest (probably best not click if you’re a bit squeamish). The picture has had a lot of comments. That’s a whole new use of Pinterest for me. I’ve only really thought about it as a place for pretty things. But it’s obviously so much more than that.

Michael talked about the balance of power shifting from one of ‘medical professional always knows best’ to a more equal relationship where patients want to be actively involved in their own healthcare. It’s not about ranting or moaning – it’s about truly engaging in healthcare. Social media “gives patients a seat at the table“.

In that one presentation, Michael neatly encapsulated my three major themes of the day.

Be brave

The next speaker, Ros Moore, the Scottish Government’s Chief Nursing Officer, who got a great reaction. Ros made the point that debating whether or not to use social media is bit like debating gravity. Her message was along the lines of: ‘it’s here; use it; be brave!’ (emphasising that final point with a Merida slide) Ros also made it clear that the integration of health and social care will need consistent use of social media by practitioners, patients and the public; and she urged us to ‘up the pace’.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much of a social media profile for Ros. Which is a shame. For me, if you’re advocating the use of social media, then you have to be actively involved in using it yourself or your message lacks authenticity. Perhaps that’s something our new Health Comms Manager can rectify when he joins us (alas, I cannot yet reveal his identity, but I suspect he will be reading this).

Next up was Gary McGrow (@garymcgrow), a researcher at the SHC. Gary has been looking at trends in social media and healthcare and, in particular, at social media use in the NHS in Scotland over the last year or so. He threw some stats at us.


So, the numbers – and this was mostly about numbers, rather than qualitative evaluation – would certainly indicate that there’s been progress. Although, obviously, there’s still room for improvement. 

When asked about how we deal with the reality of most staff being blocked from accessing social media, Gary advocated the #jfdi approach. Ha, a man after my own heart!

The next two presentations looked at examples of NHS eparticipation websites:

  • ‘Your NHS Tayside’ – presented by Allyson Angus and Laura Nixon (couldn’t find either on Twitter).
  • And Sharon Hammell and Mark Bargon (again, couldn’t find either on Twitter) talked about how the Scottish Ambulance Service has developed this approach with http://your.scottishambulance.com/ (which has been built in-house, I believe). 

I must admit I zoned out a bit at this point. Partly because the technology refused to play ball again when the presenters were attempting live demos of their sites, disrupting the flow. I did pick up one useful point from the Ambulance Service presentation about the importance of ensuring processes (people and technology) are in place for dealing with feedback.

The first of my three workshops of the day (selected from a choice of about 12) was with the SHC’s Information Officer, Richard McCrea (@McCreaRichard) and Sandra McDougall, Head of Policy (not on Twitter, as far as I can tell). The workshop was an opportunity to have a look at the SHC’s draft social media guidance – the aim of which is to help boards make better use of social media to inform, engage and consult communities during periods of major service change. This will be available online. But if you want a look now, I’m sure Richard would be happy to send you a copy if you ask nicely. Richard is looking for examples of NHS social media use – get in touch if you have some!

Honesty is the best policy

Maimie Thompson (@NHSHMT) was the ideal speaker for the always tricky ‘just after lunch’ spot. Engaging, funny and refreshingly honest, Maimie, who is Head of PR and Engagement at NHS Highland, told us the story of how came to be.

NHS Highland took a bit of a battering in the press last year for a range of reasons. Maimie’s response to this was to tackle it head on and she saw a way to use Twitter to enable patients, journalists and the wider public to hear directly from NHS Highland staff – in their own words – who they are, what they do on a day-to-day basis. Thereby getting an insight into the demands of their roles. So, every week the tweets on the  account come from a different member of staff.

Great for public engagement. And also great for staff engagement. 

I think Maimie may have attended the Gordon Scobbie (@DCCTayside) school of staff management.

They’ve taken a bit of stick for it, of course. But Maimie is clear that the positives far outweigh the negatives. [See the previous post on this blog for a similar example of the public sector taking a bit of a (calculated) risk with social media; getting stick for it; and dealing with it].

Oh, the humanity

After Maimie’s presentation, I went along to Graham Budd (@thebuddster) and Satvinder Kaur’s (@saty_kaur) session on ‘engaging communities (and neighbourhoods) using social media’. I’d seen Graham present on this before – indeed he spoke at the first Scottish Public Sector Digital Group event. But it was good to get an update and also to meet Saty! Graham’s presentations on Slideshare are worth checking out.

The overriding message I picked up from this session was the value of putting a human face on service delivery.

There was an interesting discussion after the session about who should be using social media in organisations and what support they need – something that Graham and Saty have got well covered.  

My final session of the day was with Gillian Dick (@gilliandick) founder of http://www.findmeglasgow.com/. Gillian provided some practical tips on monitoring and evaluating social media campaigns.

A separate blog post on that I think, ‘return on energy’ needs further thought. Probably after UKGovcamp, cos there’s a session on evaluation planned for that.

What now?

Kenny mentions in his post that we should not only “be consistent within [my emphasis] each organisation but consistent in both how we share research about Scotland’s digital habits as well as the parameters or standards of measurement that we in the public sector adhere to.” One place where that is already happening is here, in the Scottish Public Sector Digital Group – we’re for anyone interested in any aspect of digital in any bit of the public sector (including health services) in Scotland. Come join us. We’re nice.


* I see Itison have a good offer on at the moment if you want to check it out for yourself… [I’m not on commission btw!]


9 thoughts on “‘Doing’ social media: Be brave. Be honest. Be human.

  1. I watched this conference unfold on Twitter and I have to say I was fair enthused by all the bold statements flying around. I’m so glad to see health colleagues getting out there and talking about these issues as I feel lots of chat has been going on in local government for years. Can we join forces and make good, strong changes?

    I have to point out I was disappointed that the digital footprints of the majority of the high level NHS speakers is very low or non-existent. To me this signals an organisational barrier so I will be watching with interest to see if these people become active online soon.

  2. Great post, I enjoyed it and was disappointed by it. Firstly – I was disappointed by it as it highlighted a missed opportunity for me (I thought the same when I read Kenny’s blog). I knew nothing about the conference, something has gone wrong in my communication network that I missed this. Second disappointment is hearing about people advocating and extolling the virtue of SoMe without engaging in it – a clear credibility gap and so disappointing when there are several senior NHS leaders who are active, on Twitter particularly.
    Enjoyment – the blog is well written and honest in creating a report that was meaningful, and engaging – Im so glad you shared your thoughts and observations. My own organisation is slowly opening up Twitter (I can now access it via internal IT network @dtbarron ) and to project based Twitter accounts as a way of engaging a wider audience ( @brushstrokesart ) – it’s slow, but a start on the journey. Thanks for sharing. Derek

    • Thanks Derek. If it’s any consolation, I think the NHS is way ahead of most of the rest of the public sector in Scotland. Things seem to have kicked off in the health sector last year or so (or have just come to my attention in that period, anyway), with your ayrshirehealth blog, @NHSHWhoWeAre, etc. And health professionals seem to have embraced social media as a professional development tool. Which is great. Thank you for sharing your learning!

  3. Pingback: ‘Doing’ social media: Be brave. Be honest. Be human. | weeklyblogclub

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  5. Really interesting post as someone sitting just over the border and working in public sector comms.

    Really heartening to see such good work going on in Scotland. I do find it strange though that people extolling the benefits have a small or non existent social footprint.

  6. Pingback: Settling in – Scottish healthcare blogs in February | scothealthmonthly

  7. Reblogged this on Blether And Blogger and commented:
    This is the Blether And Blogger February 2013 Reblog – my commitment to share others’ musings, experiences and writing. I chose this because it can be contrasted against my blog of the same event, and because I’m a growing fan of the Scottish Public Services Digital Group and I’d like to contribute to raising awareness of their work.

  8. So great to see my Scots brothers and sisters advancing with this agenda! I was at the Scots AHP Conference last year- the progress coming through social networking since then is incredible, as well it should be, in the country with the edge in all things telecare and telehealth. Social media is merely another tool to add to your toolbox, to achieve the transparency, openness, engagement and participation that we all want in order to co-create health services that are fit for the next 50 years.
    Shame that do many “advocates” aren’t active social media users- lack of congruence and genuine belief will always be discovered, now that we’re all connected. If you can’t get with this agenda, probably better to leave the speaking slots to people who do get it, eh?

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