Change, choice and the challenges of social media

 Next week we’ll be back to blogging Cochrane reviews and other health evidence, starting with a look at the evidence on over-the-counter medicines. But to kick off the new year, here are some reflections on change and our work in promoting the use of social media by those involved in healthcare. 

 New year, same old me?

vintage female office worker thinking

Time to take stock and think about change

It’s the time of year we all tend to think about change. We ask ourselves, what does the coming year hold for me? What changes will I see and what changes will I initiate? ‘New year, new you!’ promise those glossy magazines. It’s not so easy though, is it? We can be left feeling that we haven’t got it right if, by February, we haven’t shed a pound, eaten our five a day, taken up a new activity or in some way effected change.

I’ve been thinking a lot about change in relation to the expanding role of social media in healthcare and how those not yet using it can be encouraged and helped to do so. In two and a half years of using social media to communicate and share evidence, I’ve talked to many people, both on- and offline, with all the zeal of a convert, about its many benefits and how to make the most of it. We’ve run social media workshops for Cochrane colleagues, health services researchers and, most recently, research delivery professionals and right now I’m looking at developing something for nurses and other health professionals. So, it’s time to take stock.

 Is it easy to get going with social media?

In theory, yes, but for many people the reality can be different. Our workshops have been well received; participants have enjoyed themselves and felt they’ve learned something. They have gone away with some new knowledge and skills and hopefully some new enthusiasm for social media. Have they all got stuck in and at least become regulars on Twitter, the platform I talk about the most? Well, no. Some have and some (more?) haven’t. Why? Some possibilities:

  1. Something’s wrong with me
  2. Something’s wrong with them
  3. Both of the above
  4. None of these

Let’s say the correct answer’s 4! Here’s another set of possibilities:

  1. Lack of confidence (and sometimes downright fear)
  2. Lack of time
  3. Lack of skills/knowhow
  4. Lack of conviction

These are obstacles to change, to getting stuck in to a new way of communicating, that we acknowledge and start to address in the workshops. But I’ve realized that there’s another one that should be on the list: lack of choice.

“I don’t see why I have to do this”

man listening at the door

It’s ok to lurk on Twitter, ‘listening’ but not tweeting

I became aware of this recently, during my first session with non-clinical research delivery professionals, in a day focused on plans for building their professional community. Someone’s comment that “I don’t see why I have to do this” revealed not just skepticism about the value of social media but also a perceived lack of choice. Thinking about social media from the viewpoint of someone faced with something new, something they feel is being imposed on them, suggests to me that lack of choice should be right up there in the list of obstacles.

Just as we can address the first four things, perhaps we should be clear that people have a choice about whether to use social media and that choosing not to is okay, as is using it in the way that suits them. What we want from social media will influence the platforms we choose and how we use them. Plenty of people find Twitter brilliant for keeping up to date but prefer to lurk rather than tweet, and that’s just fine. I may value social media as a debating forum; for you it may be all about sharing (or finding) resources.

Perhaps it’s enough to encourage a few, who in turn may influence others. There are also choices to be made about when and how to make the change.

 The purposeful minority

Mike Lehr, in this helpful series on change management, suggests that a good way to introduce a change is to present it as a natural progression for a group or organisation, or fitting with its mission, rather than something revolutionary and different. For those research delivery professionals, looking to build a community of people connected by their work but geographically scattered, coming together on social media is an obvious way to help them realize their aims. But they don’t all need to be there. Those connecting online can share some of the benefits of those encounters (news of an event, perhaps, or a link to a resource) with colleagues not in the room – both those who use Twitter but missed a particular conversation and those who aren’t using it.

Lehr also points to research suggesting that it only takes a purposeful minority of five percent to influence a crowd, so change doesn’t need everyone to get involved at the outset. Others will join in when they see it working for those who have made the change, though not everyone will.

 People perform best at tasks that interest them

This is a point that really stood out from the tale of how a problem was addressed at Google, in its early days. The problem was advertised in the staff kitchen with an open invitation for any employee to tackle it. Those that were interested got to work on it and the problem was solved in no time. I suspect that those who are quick to embrace social media are those whom it interests and perhaps these are the ‘best’ people to get on board.

vintage photographer with tangled roll film

We need to be patient with ourselves when adopting new technology!

When change feels difficult, a new approach can help

 Maxine Craig, who knows a thing or two about change, got me thinking about this in her blog, in which she talks about taking a new approach to managing a technological change (making the switch to a new computer operating system). She decided to be patient with herself (a new mind set) and to manage the practical side differently, running both old and new systems until she was comfortable with the new instead of rushing to complete the switch. She concludes that given the right context and mind set she is ok with tech change, and that exercising choice is fundamental.

These reflections are going to help me reshape my approach to helping people begin or enhance their social media use as well as influencing my responses to a change challenge of my own – managing further hearing loss. Lots of parallels here, as I explore new technology that might offer me something, identify areas where I need to improve or acquire skills and try to cultivate a mindset that is patient and doesn’t expect instant success!

We won’t be standing still in terms of our social media use this year either. I’m not sure what we’ll be experimenting with next, though I have instagram in my sights for the UK Cochrane Centre; but I’m going to keep thinking about how best to manage change and approach those I’m talking to about it with a little more understanding.


Sarah Chapman

About Sarah Chapman

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Sarah's work as a Knowledge Broker at Cochrane UK focuses on disseminating Cochrane evidence through social media, including Evidently Cochrane blogs, blogshots and the ‘Evidence for Everyday’ series for nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and patients. A former registered general nurse, Sarah has a particular interest making evidence accessible and useful to practitioners and to others making decisions about health. Before joining Cochrane, Sarah also worked on systematic reviews for the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute, and obtained degrees in History from the University of Oxford and in the history of women’s health and illness in early modern England (MPhil., University of Reading).

1 Comments on this post

  1. Avatar

    Great post, I work for an NHS mental health service and we are just dipping our toe into social media. We have experienced quite a lot of what you have described in this article but are determined to keep moving it forward. :)

    Georgie / Reply

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