Lapland is real: reflections on the landscape of healthcare social media

WGT16 participants

Come wearing whatever you’re comfortable in, they said! Vanessa Garrity and Sian Spencer at #WGT16

WeGetTogether (#WGT16) was an ‘unconference’ held on Monday 29th February 2016, gathering in one room people with a shared interest in social media and its application to healthcare and, alongside, running a day of online discussion between virtual participants.

It was an occasion for celebration and exploration. We celebrated what has been achieved so far and delighted in meeting in person many known to us online. We explored opportunities and difficulties, shared aspirations and anxieties, and asserted our desire to keep going forward together, to keep pushing the boundaries of social media in healthcare to make a positive difference.

Helen Bevan (@helenbevan) talked about us being pioneers. As we continue our voyage of discovery in sometimes uncharted and occasionally hostile territory, here are some features of the landscape that emerged for me during our conversations at #WGT16.


Lapland is real?!

I must be a bad parent. At 15, this came as news to my daughter, who was both astonished and delighted to discover that Lapland isn’t a theme park. Her sister, with whom I’d expected to share the joke, had the same response. “It’s your fault for not taking us” they declared, before sloping off to check out Narnia and Hogwarts, just in case…

Now of course it shouldn’t be necessary to go somewhere to be convinced that it’s real. But is there an element of this with social media?

In the years I’ve been using social media to share health evidence and engage with a vast network of people with overlapping interests, I’ve talked to various groups about how this works and why it’s A Good Thing. They hear, but somehow don’t quite believe it; or perhaps they can’t quite work out how to get there, or feel that the journey will take too long or be too difficult, or that it’s just too treacherous.

Discussions at #WGT16 often touched on this and rightly. Exciting as it was for us healthcare Twitterati to come together, we were all too aware of the importance of bringing in others who remain outside and that doing so remains challenging.

Standing on stepping stones

How can we help others join us? Does the social media landscape seem too treacherous?

Visa requirements

check point

There are still institutional barriers to social media use

 I was sad to hear that many institutions (including some universities and NHS Trusts), continue to discourage staff from using social media and create obstacles. Still. This is something that continues to need work to change.

Some institutions are using social media wonderfully well, of course, and none more so than Plymouth University, whose Professor of Health Informatics, Ray Jones, has just published the results of his study on Twitter as an assessed element of the first year nursing course. (I spotted Teresa and Nick Chinn amongst the authors – they do get about, don’t they?!) You can read more here.

Is the world flat?

bridges over the River Liffey, Dublin

We need to keep working on using social media to build bridges between disconnected groups

This one’s causing me something of a furrowed brow. One of the things I love most about Twitter is that it can remove obstacles that keep people apart in the physical world; barriers of hierarchy, bureaucracy, geography and so on. I continue to marvel at it and the opportunities it allows. It undoubtedly can remove obstacles; but to what extent does that happen? Are there barriers I’m overlooking? Have other hierarchies and circles of privileged access replaced the traditional ones?

At #WGT16, we essentially celebrated the flattened world of social media, of equality of opportunity there. Mark Brown (@MarkOneinFour), spoke to us all about this, about the freedom of movement and association social media offers us and what public professionals can do with that. But, afterwards, Mark also tweeted a blog by Ermintrude (@Ermintrude2) which suggests otherwise, and urged us to read it as ‘a corrective to unrealistic dreams of influence and power’. Ermintrude writes that ‘flattened hierarchies are within the gift of those in power’; of fish heads thrown to the masses…  I found myself thinking back to my undergraduate history studies, of rituals and festivals which, allowing a temporary reversal of the social order, only served to reinforce it.

Helen Bevan spoke of the need to be bridge builders between disconnected groups. We need to keep thinking about how we are doing this and what else might be needed.

Talks with fellow travellers

street sellers

Keep talking – people are generous with their knowledge (remember to share yours!)

One of the best ways to get the most from one’s travels and to discover interesting new places is through talking to others along the way. Of course, this is something we often do online, but it was great to have a chance for some face-to-face conversations at #WGT16. We were encouraged to put down our phones and really listen to the people we were sitting with, but it was through casual chats that I picked up some really useful stuff to follow up. Like any bunch of enthusiasts, people’s conversation was peppered with references to favourite platforms, and I came away with a mental list of a number of sites that I’m keen to explore or to use more extensively.

Camping in France or partying in Ibiza?

man with laptop on beach

Are you in the right places? Where might you go next?

This is something that keeps bobbing to the surface when I’m thinking about social media, and it cropped up in several conversations I had at #WGT16: where else should we be engaging? Which platforms should we be exploring to meet our social media goals? Considering what you want to do on social media goes hand in hand with the question of where you should be. It’s all too easy to find a place (or several), get comfortable and not really look beyond that. The thing is, whilst I might be having a lovely time talking with my fellow campers, I’m missing the opportunity to engage with those partying in Ibiza or cruising in Norway.

There was chat about Twitter – a key platform for all of us there, I think, but the question was raised of where we’ll go if that comes to an end. I know for some, Twitter has lost something of its sheen and they are increasingly looking to other spaces. I was keen to hear where others engage and asked, tentatively, about Snapchat. The school nurses on our table said that they’d been thinking about this and its potential for reaching their school population.

Where should we be on social media? What will we do there? These are very basic questions, but ones we need to keep revisiting.

This looks familiar

senior couple walking in park

What we have is both ordinary and extraordinary

We may be the vanguard; we may be looking to change things, exploring new uses, new platforms, new connections. But we’re also dealing with something that is an integral part of life for so many in 2016 and its very ordinariness makes some of the obstacles we’ve discussed rather baffling.

On this note, I’ll finish with two reflections on the day, from @RoyLilley and David Barton (@Bartontd):

“Social media isn’t a novelty, it is main stream.  It is not a hobby, it is part of the professional business repertoire.”

Read Roy’s blog here.

As for David, he says in this blog: “I am not “Inspired” or “Driven” – I am enjoying communicating with my family, friends and new friends. That this may change the world is simply a useful spin off to the most basic of human skills – the ability to communicate information, emotion, care, ideas – in all the diversity that humanity is…”

You can see lots of ‘Post #WGT16 Stuff’ on Pinterest here. Do join in the conversation on Twitter, where you’ll find me @SarahChapman30 and @ukcochranecentr, and/or post a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You might also like the other blogs on social media here (see ‘Communicating Evidence’).
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Lapland is real: reflections on the landscape of healthcare social media by Sarah Chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Images have been purchased for Evidently Cochrane from and and may not be reproduced.

Lapland is real: reflections on the landscape of healthcare social media by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

4 Comments on this post

  1. I really enjoyed this blog, your reflections shared resonance with my own on the day and the undoubted value of social media in professional practice .
    Thank You

    Angela Lewis / Reply
    • Thanks Angela. Have you seen the Pinterest board for ‘Post #WGT16 stuff’? Great way to gather people’s reflections. It’s here Seeing how well this works, this is on my list of things to try next – so our Symposium later this month is about to have a Pinterest board. Always something else to try isn’t there?!

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Angela Lewis) Reply
  2. Oh Sarah, this is amazing and so absolutely reflected the feelings of so many who attended.

    It was fab to meet you – I hope we can meet up again soon, we are almost neighbours!

    Dee Ward / Reply
    • Thank you Dee – brilliant to talk to you too. What a stimulating and sociable gathering it was, and I have come away with lots of new ideas. I hope I might have sparked one or two as well; so much to be gained from talking together! I’m sure our paths will cross again before too long; hope so!

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Dee Ward) Reply

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