Apr 062014


For me social media is mostly about learning, sharing and making connections. The participatory and personal nature of discussion on platforms such as Twitter is the antithesis to traditional broadcast communications, and it is this subtle shift that can often be so challenging for institutions.

I’ve been wondering how to convey this change in a more meaningful way when speaking at events and conferences – the traditional lecture format not only feels more in the broadcast tradition, it also infers expert knowledge on the presenter, when in the world of social media it seems to me that we are all on a journey of discovery.

So when Sue Sibbald aka @BPDFFS and I agreed to speak about social media and mental health recovery at the recent CPA Association conference, we thought we’d try a different way of sharing our thoughts and experiences.  We wanted to convey some of the essence of the discursive quality that platforms like Twitter afford, not just through what we said, but also how we said it.

We decided to ditch the Prezi and employ a conversational format – that is, a conversation that would take place in public and on the stage. Whilst we agreed the questions we would ask each other beforehand (to make sure our dialogue flowed) we deliberately didn’t share our responses so that we would be spontaneous in the moment, develop points during our discussion, and perhaps engage in a bit of banter.

In taking this approach, our plan was to illuminate the interactive and emergent nature of dialogue in social media spaces; to show how it is both personal (we both shared stories) and social; and how it is spontaneous as well as requiring give and take to work. The dynamic of patient and professional is one built on differential power but we hoped our conversation would illustrate how social media tends to flatten traditional hierarchies (whilst appreciating that this is not always the case). This intuitively felt more in keeping with, and hopefully reinforced the messages we wanted to convey, about social media. I think that we did this more effectively through a conversation than we might have achieved in singular direction broadcast lecture mode.

I don’t think it is the right approach for every presentation but I’m definitely keen to use it again and I really enjoyed collaborating with Sue – even though we’ve only met a few times I knew we would work well together because of the rapour we’ve built on Twitter.


Below are basic questions we planned as the basis for our public conversation:

Victoria to Sue: Tell me a bit about who you are, what you do and your background; Could you tell me about your experience of BPD (borderline personality disorder); How did you first come across social media?

Sue to Victoria: So tell me a bit about you your role and how you came across social media? How do you manage to tread the fine line of staying professional but appearing human? What do you see the benefits are to organisations?

Victoria to Sue & Sue to Victoria: What does recovery mean to you?

Victoria to Sue: How has social media helped you personally in living with a diagnosis of BPD? How have you been able to help others in their recovery through social media? We hear a lot about the risks and dangers of social media – what are your thoughts on this?

Sue to Victoria: What about those organisations not on social media how are they missing out and how can they help people with their recovery? How do you as an organisation make sure you include those who don’t know how to use social media? Are there any organisations which have really mastered the use of social media and are there guidelines that can be followed?

Victoria to Sue: What sort of responses have you found from healthcare professionals to social media? What has been helpful? Not helpful? How do you think healthcare professionals and NHS Trust ought to be responding to social media?Do you know of any good examples you could share?

Sue to Victoria: What are your thoughts on #chats for healthcare professionals and is it true you can use them for continuing professional development? What are your thoughts on healthcare professionals and people who use services coming together on these chats? How might this help in recovery? Do you think live tweeting from conferences is helpful?

Victoria to Sue: Tell us a bit about #BPDChat and how that came about. What other chats are there? What do they bring from a recovery point of view? Are there are any drawbacks/risks? Do you think healthcare professionals should recommend them to people they support?

Sue to Victoria & Victoria to Sue: What’s one key thing you’d like this audience to take away from our conversation today in relation to social media and recovery?


Feb 252014


With a week to go to the Health and Care Innovation Expo I’m delighted to have a guest post from my co-presenter at the Pop-up University, Dominic Stenning aka @Patient_Leader. We’ll be running a session on social media:

Only one week to go until the  Expo that I’m presenting at with @VictoriaBetton. Both Victoria and I love our social media and know just how valuable a tool it can be for sharing ideas and more importantly, building relationships.

If you’re honest, genuine and open to other people’s views then, in my experience, you have nothing to fear from Twitter. Yes it will challenge your thinking and yes you won’t agree with everyone, but that doesn’t mean you have anything to fear.

On the whole if you stick to the rule ‘you are what you tweet’ – such as being considerate – then you can only get the very best social media has to offer.

Building relationships and networking in general is what it’s all about. My advice is get stuck in and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We’re a forgiving bunch on Twitter and if you get something wrong, just say sorry and if the other person doesn’t understand, then that’s their problem. We all make mistakes or say something without thinking, on the whole you will not only learn from it but make new friends in the process, as I have.

My life has significantly changed since using social media (Mainly Twitter) and that’s mainly to do with following up online relationships with real life meet ups.  I’ve ended up working with various healthcare professionals and also making friends with people who are also passionate about healthcare.

I’m looking forward to Expo and really hope you join our exciting &  fun session at the Pop-up University!

Feb 092014
image courtesy of infed.org

image courtesy of infed.org

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.

Social capital

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 :-)