(ED NOTE: This blog post is a bit old, but relevant now)



Farris Timimi, MD 
Medical Director
Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media

Reprinted with permission.

Social mediaThe biggest risk in health care social media is not participating in the conversation. Simply putting “find me on Facebook” or “follow me on Twitter” badges on your website does not equate with health care social media. Having noted this, among the most common concerns that seem to limit participation are those regarding professionalism. So let’s make this as easy as possible, with 12 words to light your way:

• Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry
• Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete
• Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal

Following these simple rules can prevent most social media miscues, and keep you out of the Friday Faux Pas* series.

Don’t lie: a good rule in general, it is particularly important online, where nothing is transient and everything is searchable.

Don’t pry: Do not seek out personal health care data or potential protected health information as a part of a social platform conversation.

Don’t cheat: We’ve all heard the old proverb that “Cheaters never prosper,” but some harbor lingering doubts about whether it’s true. In social media, cutting corners is much more likely to be discovered and exposed, and when the truth is revealed it won’t be pretty.

Everyone makes mistakes; confess yours immediately. Intentionally “gaming” the system, however, will not reflect well on you or your organization.

Can’t delete: this is an important rule: if it’s still in Google’s cache, you can’t put it in the trash. The most effective tool to address this is a strategic pause before you post. Count to 3 and think:

  1. To whom are you posting? / Who is your audience?
  2. Is this post appropriate for all ages?
  3. Does my post add value to the ongoing conversation?

Don’t steal, don’t reveal: Give credit where it’s due, and acknowledge those who inspired you or provided information you’re passing along. In Twitter it’s as simple as a retweet or a mention, while in a blog you can share link love. And if information is proprietary or confidential, don’t disclose it in social platforms.

Keeping this simple is critical, but there are some additional rules that are worth remembering and applying:

  • Don’t endorse as a matter of course.
  • Supervisors: Don’t initiate an employee friend request at your own behest.
  • Separate your circle of friends from patients you mend.
  • Corporate logo in your username is a no go.
  • Adding a disclaimer is probably saner.
  • Don’t practice on the Internet, regardless of your good intent.
  • Always surmise that HIPAA applies.
  • Speak on your behalf, not that of staff.
  • Anonymity is really gimmicky.
  • If you chat about your company, identify abundantly.

Here is the critical message. The same general rules that apply to offline behavior apply to online behavior. The difference is the platform online can leverage a mistake to a much wider audience.

Errors will occur no matter how careful you are. That’s why you must develop a social media policy and provide orientation and training, and when you or others in your organization make mistakes, view them as learning opportunities.

There is great power in the conversation.  Know the risks and behave accordingly, but do not be so risk averse that you do not participate.

You may want to elaborate in your social media guidelines or policy, but these 12 words provide a solid foundation.

*Friday Faux Pas series
This occasional series, Friday Faux Pas, highlights missteps in social media by health-related organizations and/or their employees. We believe social media are overwhelmingly a force for good, but we’re not blind to potential problems. This series helps maintain the balance, and in looking at each faux pas, we want to highlight how it might have been prevented and also how the organization responded.

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