Social media has come a long way since its infancy. Platforms initially created to help people connect and interact are now used by hundreds of millions of Americans to share news, disseminate information, and engage in any number of communications, including helping health care professionals interact with the public.
According to 2021 data from Pew Research, approximately 69% of Americans reported using Facebook, 81% said they’ve used YouTube, and 40% reported activity on Instagram.
Consequently, nursing professionals looking to connect with the public are likely to find that establishing a social media presence can help them forge professional networks. It can also help engage users in important public health discussions on a variety of topics, like general health and wellness, the benefits of exercise, and disease prevention guidelines, among others. Crafting and maintaining a positive online presence is crucial for most people, and it’s essential nurses take care when crafting their social media presence.
The Pros of Using Social Media for Nurses
There are numerous benefits associated with using social media for health care messaging. For example, in August 2014, three men living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) took to social media. They posted a video of themselves dumping buckets of ice water on each other, to spread awareness of the condition. Each person who had water dumped on them then nominated a friend to perform the same challenge. Not only did the Ice Bucket Challenge go viral, it raised more than $114 million for ALS research within a month.
Still, the use of social media in health care isn’t just about creating viral campaigns. Messaging, when crafted correctly, can help nurses engage with patients on a wide range of health topics, such as proactive health reminders like scheduling an annual wellness check, crisis communication, and curtailing misinformation. Nurse practitioners (NPs) in private practice can also use social media to market their services. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that social media can help NPs connect with patients who may be searching for nearby practices.
The Challenges of Using Social Media for Nurses
The primary challenge of using social media in nursing is ensuring platforms are used appropriately. For example, a Miami-based nurse was fired in October 2021 after posting photos of a baby born with a birth defect to her Instagram account. According to news reports, the neonatal intensive care unit nurse shared two photos of the newborn. As stated by the hospital’s spokesperson, sharing any photos of this nature violates the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Nurses must not only be mindful of maintaining patients’ confidentiality in compliance with HIPAA guidelines, they must also take care with other types of content they post. This is underscored by a 2018 study from CareerBuilder that found 70% of employers use social media to screen job applicants, and that 43% of employers monitor employees’ social media accounts.
Newer social media platforms present challenges as well. In November 2020, a TikTok post by a nurse in Portland, Ore., landed her in trouble after her hospital employer saw her flouting COVID-19 health and safety protocols. In the post, the nurse said she still traveled frequently, didn’t wear a mask when she traveled, and let her kids have play dates. The video generated millions of views, and her employer took note. After placing her on administrative leave, the hospital took to social media, stating “We want to assure you this one careless statement does not reflect the position of Salem Health or the hardworking and dedicated caregivers who work here.”
Tips to Build the Proper Social Media Presence
Nurses interested in building and expanding their social media presence will be well served by adhering to the following guidelines:
- Choose your channels wisely: Different platforms attract different demographics. Identify your target audience and post accordingly. For example, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners (WHNPs) are likely to find posting on Facebook preferable to posting on TikTok.
- Craft your messaging: As a health care practitioner, you want to be seen as an expert in your field. Choose messaging and content that speak to your knowledge and expertise.
- Stay active: Consistency is key. If you’re trying to develop a following, posting regularly is a must. Set (and stick to) a posting schedule for each channel you’re active on.
- Be responsive: Are your posts attracting attention? Are your followers posting comments or questions? Respond to them. Engaging with your followers can increase your credibility and strengthen your follower base.
Be a Voice that Patients Trust
Social media is a valuable tool nurses can use to promote health, wellness, and health care delivery. Practicing nurses interested in gaining the knowledge and expertise to engage on social media as an authority in their field, are likely to find completing an advanced education — such as an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a Family Nurse Practitioner program — can help them pursue their professional goals.
Discover how Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree program can prepare you for the next step in your career.