Thursday, August 16, 2012

5 Tips for Health Care Professionals Using Facebook

More and more health care professionals, students, and faculty are using Facebook to gather and share information.

I encourage my authors to get on Facebook too (and also Google+, but I'll address only Facebook here, because Google+ is such a different experience), to help get the word out about their book and to interact with the markets they serve.

The more health care professionals using Facebook, the better. Their posts can increase our knowledge of  health care trends and research and encourage a sense of shared community.

However, just as Facebook can help health care professionals, so can it hurt them.

Here are five tips for using Facebook safely and effectively.

#1  Post links and information your Facebook friends will most likely appreciate.

Posting a link to results from a new study or commenting on a news article you've found informative make for great posts for other health care professionals. To help all your friends decide which posts are right for them, try to include a kind of pointer in your post.

For instance, if a post deals with, say, pediatric emergencies, you might preface the post with something like, "For my friends interested in pediatrics..."

Pointing out the "market" for the post helps your friends concentrate on the most appropriate posts for them.

#2  Post as a professional.

You're a professional or working to become one, so post that way. Even if you post principally for your friends and co-workers, be professional.

You just never know who will read a post ... or when.

Be kind, courteous, articulate. No profanity, no nastiness, no personal criticisms.

Do right by your profession, and Facebook will treat you well. Do wrong, and it will at some point bite you in the buttocks.

#3  Post images wisely.

Be aware that any photo, illustration, graph, or any other type of image you've created and subsequently post to Facebook immediately becomes the property of Facebook. It's not yours anymore.

If that photo you post belonged originally to someone else — say, your hospital or doctor's office — and you didn't have permission to post it, you would be guilty of copyright infringement.

Along those same lines, never "tag" someone in an image without their permission, even if it's a close friend or a co-worker you know well. That person may very well resent having their face identified to people they don't know.

Facebooking should never interfere with friendships.

#4  Use e-mail, not Facebook, for private matters.

I can't tell you the number of times I've seen highly personal information posted on someone's Facebook wall rather than as a message. (The following quotations are fake but similar to many I've seen.)
  • "My mother is having surgery to remove her uterus tomorrow at Main City Center Hospital. I hope everything goes well."
  • "Jane Doe, I'm heading over to the Bel-Air Lounge for a few drinks. Want to join me?"
  • "I'm looking for a babysitter for this Saturday night to go to a party. Know anyone who can do it?"
Seriously? First, does everyone on your Friends list need to know about your mother? Has she said it's okay to tell the world?

Remember, every single thing you post to your wall or on your friend's wall belongs to the world.

And so on, and so on, and so on.
You might think that post is going only to your friends, but you would be wrong. That's how posts on Facebook, videos on YouTube, and tons of other pieces of content posted to a social media site "go viral."

You post to your wall, and a friends reads it. And then one of their friends reads it. And so on. And so on. And so on.

Stick to e-mail, or at the  least a Facebook message.

#5  Handle taboo topics carefully.

It's funny, but for some reason Facebook seems to bring out the worst in people. People often feel quite free to bring up topics they would never bring up at a party, such as politics, religion, gay marriage, or similar hot-button issues.

But on Facebook, they're fair game. If you're a health professional, and certainly if you're a student in a health professions program, please choose your issues and comments wisely.

I say that not because of the standard reason, that a current or future employer might see the post and fire you or not hire you, though that's a good reason too. I say it also so you can avoid alienating the very people you're trying to communicate with.

Case in point. The recent happenings with the Chick-fil-A chain prompted a huge number of posts from people on all sides of the issue.

People wanted to speak out, let their friends know their opinion, promote their "cause," and otherwise put forward their thoughts and feelings on the topic. But how many of their Facebook friends disagreed? How many felt hurt or anger at those posts?

Most likely far more than the Facebooker knows.

Now, posting opinions is part of what social media is all about. But if you're a health care professional, you have an additional obligation to put forward rationed and reasoned opinions.

Rightly or wrongly, impassioned or inflammatory posts can be seen by superiors, colleagues, and patients as being indicative of how you handle yourself as a professional.

Don't let Facebook dismantle what you've worked so hard to build — your reputation as a professional.