What should pharmacists know about social media? Well, a lot of things actually! Here, a pharmacist with personal, professional and research experience using social media discusses the topic and provides insights meant to help other pharmacists to understand potential benefits, dangers and opportunities.
Authored By: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS-AQ ID
Social media has become integrated into our lives. It impacts how we interact with one another, what we talk about and how we make our plans. As new social media platforms grow in popularity and older social media platforms expand their user base, it seems that social media and social networking will play an important role within our society for a long time to come.
So, since social media is such a big deal, what is it that pharmacists should know about the topic? This post is meant to help begin to answer this question. There is so much to this topic that it cannot be covered in a concise post such as this, but it is my hope that the following can assist pharmacists in better understanding the potential benefits, dangers and opportunities that can come from engaging in social networking on social media platforms.
First thing is first, let us start with two important definitions:
- Social media: Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or participate in social networking.
- Social networking: The use of dedicated websites and applications to interact with users, or find people with similar interests to oneself.
Some social media platforms you may be familiar with are: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Vine, Reddit, Figure1, Flickr and SDN. There are of course many more than this. Here is a semi-useful wikipedia page that provides a list of the many social networking website.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform with over 1,700,000,000 active monthly users (that’s 1.7 billion!). Many of the other platforms have tens if not hundreds of millions of active monthly users. You can easily find information on the popularity of a given platform via a Google search and you can find basic information about the various platforms by visiting a home page or searching YouTube for basic how-to videos.
Now that you can identify some definitions and are oriented to the subject, let’s identify 5 things all pharmacists should know about social media!
1. It can help advance for your career
The most evident example of this is LinkedIn, which is essentially allows you to put your CV online and then connect with others who share common interests. There are many thousands of pharmacists on LinkedIn and it is a great tool for finding opportunities that may otherwise never made available. However, LinkedIn is not a social networking website that people tend to visit daily or even weekly, unless actively searching for employment.
Look to social media platforms that people commonly access at least daily (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and you will find entirely different opportunities for career advancement. Remember, by definition social networking websites are there to connect you with others who have similar interests. If you start using social media to share your professional interests and join conversations with like-minded individuals from around the world, you will be amazed with the people whom you can develop relationships.
I know of many instances where a simple connection made on Twitter led to a fruitful professional relationship.
2. It is not without risks
At this point, most people are aware that bad behavior on social media can get you in major hot water. However, even without bad behavior, social media can still cause personal or professional trouble.
Let’s start with bad behavior. One of the most well-known examples of this is the case of Justine Sacco’s tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”, which she had intended for her 170 followers. This tweet was sent out before boarding a plane and she claims it was not meant to be literal. Well, unfortunately for her people took it literally, it went viral, and by the time her plane landed 11 hours later a lot of people were upset with her. The public shaming essentially destroyed her life. You can read this unfortunate story here.
Beyond this one extreme case, many healthcare workers have been fired for things they have done on social media. From posting pictures of a patient to commenting on a sensitive topic to even liking an inappropriate post, people have gotten in major trouble for being linked to inappropriate behavior on social media.
What about good behavior? Even if you do it all right, it can also be time consuming and this can cause issues. The time you spend on social media means time not spent doing something else. It is important to consider if time invested in social media activities is not better spent on an alternate activity. Additionally, beware “FOMO”, which is when people develop a fear of missing out. Using social media can be great, but becoming too attached to your mobile device or computer can be a bad thing.
3. There are a few golden rules
It is challenging to break it all down into a few simple rules, but I think these cover the majority of what is MOST important for pharmacists:
- If you would not say it or show it to your grandmother, then you should not put it on social media
- If you are not sure if you should post something, then do not post it
- Know your privacy settings
- Know your organizations and/or school’s social media policies
- Do not reveal trade secrets
- DO NOT VIOLATE HIPAA!!!!!
Beyond these, there are many other things you should and should not do. Personally, I also recommend that you: avoid using curse words, do not start arguments or rant, avoid commenting on sensitive topics you are not deeply familiar with, do not access your social media accounts during work hours, be cautious about what pictures you post and do not post things under impaired judgement (i.e., do not drink and social media).
I also recommend that you keep the notifications to a minimum. Many times a quick review of settings on your phone or within the app and you can stop your phone from beeping every thirty seconds or your inbox being bombarded with needless emails. Social media may not sleep, but it can certainly wait. Do not let it control you.
A great resource on this topic comes from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, who released a statement on the use of social media by pharmacy professionals. It is free to access here.
4. There is more to social media than celebrities and food pics
When most people think of Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat they think of celebrities taking selfies and various pictures of food. For the most part, this reflects use of social media for personal use. Do not get me wrong, social media platforms can be a great way to stay in touch, share pictures with friends and family or find general entertainment. However, there are other reasons to use social media.
Social media can be used for professional use. This may include using it to…
- Stay current with news or literature
- Expand your professional network
- Find a job or connect with potential employers
- Advocate for a subject you are passionate about
- Provide education to others on a topic for which you have expertise
- Conduct research projects
- Bring a pharmacist’s voice to ongoing discussions
Social media can be used for pharmacy businesses. This may include using it to…
- Promote brand recognition
- Advertise products or services
- Provide innovative services
- Connect with patients or customers
- Conduct market research and better understand your patients or customers
Social media can be use for pharmacy organizations. This may include using it to do things a pharmacy business may do, but also…
- Advertise upcoming events
- Attract new members
- Advocate for a topic important to the membership
Regardless of which reason you choose to use social media, it is important to identify your intention ahead of time and use that to guide your actions as you establish new connections and build your network.
5. We still have a lot to learn
A quick search in Pubmed for “Pharmacy AND Social Media” and just over 200 results register. Research in the area of social media and pharmacy is in its infancy. Much of what is available is descriptive in nature. We know that pharmacists and pharmacy students use social media (especially Facebook). We know that differences in social media use exist among different age groups and sexes. We also know people are open to receiving education via social media. We do not know the best way to deliver education to pharmacists or pharmacy students via social media. The cross-roads of social media and pharmacy is a ripe area for researchers.
Beyond research, many organizations and schools are now adopting social media use policies for their employees. These policies are being implemented within a changing landscape in which the social media platforms evolve more rapidly than policy updates could ever be made. We still have a great deal to learn about what the impact of social media use policies is and whether or not they truly serve their intended purpose.
With all of the pros, cons and considerations about social media there is one recurring theme I have noticed. Social media works best when we stay positive and support each other. So as you interact with people and share content, do not forget that a rising tide lifts all boats. Most times it is better to support one another and establish mutually beneficial relationships than to compete at the potential detriment to all parties.
I hope you found this information useful & interesting!
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