Mike Barker is Director of Corporate Affairs at NHS Trafford. Here he discusses the opportunities for NHS communicators presented by social media.
There is much research now to suggest that the NHS is failing to capitalise on the power of social media to reach out to their local community.
A neighbouring PCT to Trafford – NHS Salford – is one of the biggest advocates of the use of Facebook and Twitter in engaging with the community. And good on them I say; we must do more in my own organisation.
It recently conducted a survey which found that just over a third (36%) of PCTs had a presence on Facebook, while only 28% were currently visible in the Twittersphere.
It also found that of the two main social media websites, Twitter is less prone to being rendered inactive than Facebook, with 88%of Twitter accounts still being used by PCTs compared with 60% of Facebook profiles.
This has prompted a series of discussions within Greater Manchester’s PCTs (at least) on how they can improve their use of social media to promote healthcare online.
A key challenge will undoubtedly be, how do small NHS organisations, with limited resources, keep Facebook and Twitter profiles active and updated, responding to followers’ messages and Tweets? Especially at a time when there is significant and growing pressure on budgets.
Regardless of the complexity, however, isn’t it about time that locally based NHS organisations started to think more laterally about addressing the challenge rather than keeping it in the “too difficult box”?
In my mind, if good communication is about using the appropriate channels at the right time to reach the right people, then surely PCTs should recognise the diversity of how people in their local communities interact with the media and each other.
This combined with the demise of the local weekly freesheet, could open up a world of possibility meaning PCTs should embrace social media as part of their communications plans rather than avoid it because it is simply too difficult.
More of us should recognise the power of social media and actively seek new and maybe innovative ways in which to harness it. To me, its limits know no bounds.
Therefore, shouldn’t we be seeking feedback on residents experiences and stories of their interactions with the NHS using such channels in order that we can ensure that local services meet local aspirations and needs?
Isn’t it the case that local people have a right and need to know about the goings on within their local NHS?
Isn’t it clearly the case that there are becoming less and less opportunities to use traditional routes to get messages to citizens?
Surely Facebook and Twitter are now so engrained in our mindsets that they are well and truly past the stage of being the latest fad.
NHS should not hide from the mainstream. We should embrace it with gusto and simply get on with doing communications as best as we can, using all the avenues open to us, within the NHS at a local level.