Facebook is rapidly becoming the care operator’s social media platform of choice – by enabling providers to communicate and engage with resident families and local audiences, including reaching prospective families.
Many care businesses have, nevertheless, refrained from venturing onto Facebook for a variety of reasons, including a feeling it will not protect residents’ privacy.
This reasoning is fine. But holding dear to this sentiment is increasingly less common in light of the fact that a written agreement with every client – or their family – can enable people to opt-out of their name, photo or any of their details from being used on a business’ social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
The reality on the care coalface is that it is now largely expected for a provider to have a Facebook page. Indeed, some may perceive a care business as ‘behind the times’ if it does not.
CQC’s views on social media
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) itself has no official guidelines or regulation on using Facebook or other social media.
But operators may be interested to know that Andrea Sutcliffe, the CQC’s Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, emailed me to convey her opinion that social media, ‘can have a positive impact in so many different ways’ adding that any regulation ‘should not be seen as standing in the way of creative and innovative activities that enrich the lives of people who need care.’
This comes with her qualification that, ‘it is a basic expectation that people living in care homes should be treated with dignity and respect and any circumstance that does not support this approach is simply not acceptable.’
Social media toolkit
Workforce development body, Skills for Health, has compiled an extensive Social Media Toolkit for Healthcare which provides examples of successful social media strategies that care providers can use.
‘It’s important to recognise the value social media can add to an organisation,’ states the toolkit.
You’re in control
When working with Facebook, it’s useful to emphasise that, as a care provider, you have control of who posts on your Facebook page’s timeline.
It’s also advisable to limit Facebook admin status to staff you trust with the responsibility of representing your organisation to the world. You can also keep your Facebook page as a ‘closed group’ so it’s only viewable to client families, for example, and not members of the public.
Remember that your Facebook admin can also delete any posts and comments on your page. Added to this, they also have the power to ban people from posting, and can even review every single post to your page before publication.
These Facebook features enable you to have a satisfying level of control on what is communicated via your organisation’s Facebook page to its friends. This is particularly helpful for anyone seeking a slow-level entry into Facebook.
What are the risks of Facebook?
Running a care business carries risks in various areas of its operations. A care provider’s Facebook page is no different.
Here’s some unsavoury examples reported by the media in recent years.
In July 2012, two care assistants in Sussex were suspended and reported to social services after they posted pictures on Facebook mocking elderly residents (the posts were not on the home’s Facebook page).
In August last year, a Glasgow care worker was reported for having posted hateful messages about Muslims on her Facebook page (again, the posts were not on her employer’s Facebook page).
Such repugnant and malicious Facebook activity can happen irrespective of whether a care provider has a Facebook page. Any member of the public can have a Facebook or Twitter account and, as an employer, you have little say as to what they, as private individuals, communicate to their friends or followers.
In August 2016, a care home manager was sacked for posting three photos of residents on her own Facebook page. Surrey County Council had said the manager breached social media policy around identifying residents.
Social media guidelines for social care
While councils seem more likely to have stringent social media guidelines, the above examples highlight why it’s important for care providers to have social media guidelines.
Such guidelines will help communicate to your staff how the Facebook page is managed and operated.
The guidelines can:
- Clarify the aims of your Facebook and social media platforms, e.g. informing clients’ families of what’s happening in the home or throughout the organisation.
- Detail how these aims can be achieved, e.g. by engaging with families and friends via photos and video.
- Provide a specific code of practice for admins.
- Outline to admins how to respond should there be social media activity that is negative to your organisation, e.g. a critical review or post.
- Provide expectations on how staff members present themselves on social media.
Facebook – word of mouth for the digital age
The positive power of Facebook lies in its capacity as a mouthpiece to ‘get the word out there’ about your organisation to your audiences – everyone from client families to GPs, local councillors, supporters and friends.
Facebook is arguably the most fluid and rapid communication channel to keep audiences up-to-date on everything from what residents had for lunch, a day out to the park, what happened at the activities classes, and snippets of interesting information about your staff.
When your Facebook page is running off the energy of its own momentum, and with firm and loyal friends and fans, your staff and clients’ families can become your leading advocates. They can help to disseminate to their Facebook friends about the quality of your care provision. All care businesses live and breathe off their ‘word of mouth’ reputation, and Facebook is the digital age’s word of mouth.
Moreover, I’ve witnessed how an active Facebook page becomes a dynamic platform to attract job applications. Considering the ongoing recruitment headache for care providers, every organisation is likely to have an interest in exploiting such an opportunity.
If you already have a Facebook page, you’ll likely have discovered its potential to engage with target audiences, while also operating as a useful marketing and PR tool.
Also, by dipping into the data, you’ll probably have found out that photos and videos are, usually, what get most interest in terms of shares, likes and comments. Such activity is ‘run-of-the-mill’ engagement every organisation should do.
However, accelerated engagement with your local community, via competitions or other tailormade campaigns, can quickly and dramatically improve the engagement rate of your Facebook page. Such accelerated engagement does require additional thought and planning, though.
For example, a ‘Win A Food Hamper’ Facebook competition we ran on behalf of a care home involved a hamper, packed with locally-made produce, being donated to the home by a neighbouring farm shop.
Anyone could enter the two-week competition, hosted on the home’s Facebook page, by answering a question on what village the care home overlooked.
Every day for two weeks, interesting content was posted to the dedicated competition page to generate publicity and entries. A winner was randomly chosen after the two weeks.
Using Facebook data
The beauty of Facebook is that all engagement data is recorded. The stand-out Facebook data for this competition was:
- It had the highest organic reach of any previous Facebook post from the care home over the previous two years.
- Likes for the home’s Facebook page went up over the course of the campaign by 23%.
- The competition, which received 40 entries, had more ‘shares’ than any other of the care home’s posts.
Moreover, Facebook’s advertising options, such as ‘boosting’ posts or ‘sponsored content’, together with ever-increasing precision to reach target audiences means, for example, that you can pay for your post to be viewed by, let’s say, people aged 45-60, who live in a particular town and who have an interest in elderly care.
Facebook is always modifying and adding to its features. A new addition is, for example, ‘pages to watch’. This enables you to compare your company’s Facebook page to other care providers in your region.
For example, for a care home Facebook page we manage, I can see that its page has 526 likes, while three other local homes have 171, 91 and 0 likes respectively. I can also see that one of the other homes is evidently working hard on its Facebook page as its engagement rate over the last week has spiked markedly. This helps to give insight into what your competitors are doing.
On a final note, while either single operators or small care groups tend to have specific Facebook pages for their individual homes or branches, the bigger group operators tend not to do this and have one page for the company. As providers and clients’ families increasingly move online, this may offer opportunities for the smaller operators to create a great digital impression and reputation for their homes or branches locally over the bigger operators.
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