On message: exploring social media

CSP professional adviser for CPD Gwyn Owen explains how to use social media resources wisely – and how to avoid the potential pitfalls

Walking past a postbox last week, I realised how rarely I write letters.

If I want to keep in touch with friends, I’m most likely to drop them an email, or blog on Facebook. It’s quick and easy – no more hunting for an envelope and stamp.

And I usually get a response within a few hours, depending what my friends are doing.

Developments in technology over the past decade mean that more people are using social media to communicate.

As CSP members, we only have to look at how the CSP’s website and iCSP have developed during the past few years for evidence of that.

Online resources such as Facebook, JISCmail, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube offer huge potential.

We can use them to network with friends and colleagues, find people with similar interests, and learn by sharing ideas, experiences and resources.

One obvious benefit is boosting our continuing professional development (CPD), because these online spaces can be personalised.

But it’s all too easy to forget about our professional responsibilities – as the following  ‘tweet’ (or message) illustrates:‘Just given Physio advice to P*of the #******* oh yes Physio to the stars :)’

This physiotherapist clearly felt proud about having treated a famous figure, whose name and band were mentioned in the tweet.

The information was broadcast to the physiotherapist’s followers, and clearly compromised the patient’s confidentiality.

One CSP member was so excited by a visit to the gym that he failed to think critically before tweeting.

This was his message: ‘Some rather sexy Ladies in the gym today. Nice’

While these 46 characters may seem trivial, the presence of ‘Nice’ constructs the women in the gym as sexual objects, and the tweeter as a lecherous individual.

This tweeter would have been wise not to broadcast his thoughts because of the way they challenge physiotherapy staff’s professional values of respect for the individual.

This article explores the potential benefits and risks of using social media and will help you think critically about your ‘digital footprint’ (information about you over which you have little control once you have released it).

Newly-published CSP guidance aims to help members use social media safely and responsibly.

What are social media?

Social media are web-based tools for sharing information, ideas and experiences.

The mushrooming of the media means we have continual access to information and online communities in ways that suit our personal interests, needs and preferences.

Some social media sites allow you to subscribe to messaging facilities or RSS (really simple syndication) feeds.

These offer quick and simple ways of finding out what’s new in area of interest, such as an academic journal’s latest articles.

Social media can be divided broadly into three categories:


Wiki is Hawaiian for ‘quick’. A wiki is a collaborative, content-focused website. Registered visitors can add or edit the information published on the site.

Wikipedia and Physiopedia are two examples of how wikis are written and presented.  


A blog is short for web log – an online space in which individuals or organisations can publish ideas and information in a sequenced or chronological order.

The process of keeping a blog – which is what resources such as CSP ePortfolio and WordPress allow us to do – is like keeping a traditional diary or noticebook in an online mode.

Blog-posts can be hidden, published as read-only, or can be set to allow blog visitors to interact with the posts.

Blogs provide an informal, personalised account of what’s going on in the life of a person or an organisation.

To see an example, visit the King’s Fund commentary on healthcare policy at: www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/index.html or the Guardian’s global health blog at: www.guardian.co.uk/society/sarah-boseley-global-health

Networking sites

There are many  social and professional networking sites. Examples include Friends ReUnited, iCSP, JISCmail, and LinkedIn – all of which are designed to bring like-minded people together for networking proposes  through online discussion-boards, email, eBulletins and events (webinars or seminars).  

Popular social media include Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

These resources allow users to keep a blog (or a micro-blog of 140 characters in the case of Twitter) and enable them to join and network with online communities.

The CSP’s website (www.csp.org.uk) is a physiotherapy-specific example of a resources that has both a content and a people-focus.

The CSP’s homepage directs members to content about current issues in physiotherapy, while the iCSP network, which is only open to CSP members, allows you to contribute to existing content and network with like-minded peers.

You can follow the CSP on: Twitter@theCSP

Digital footprints

By interacting with social media, we leave a digital footprint. Take a look at the postings on iCSP, for example, by logging on to: www.csp.org.uk/icsp/latest-content

A posting or profile on a site such as Facebook tells you something about the person who created it. You might find out about his or her interests, views, and experiences; and possibly where he or she is located (in time and place).

While our digital footprints can be used positively to express our interests, share resources with others and create social networks, they can also threaten our privacy.

That’s why it’s so important to check your social media profile regularly, to make sure that you’re not inadvertently disclosing information you’d rather not make public (such as your contact details, or your geographic location) in ways that may compromise your safety.  

Remember, no social media site is ever completely closed or secure. Here is a simple rule of thumb that might be helpful: only post a comment if you would be happy to see it broadcast on the BBC news under your name.

But it’s not just about personal security.

Our digital footprints matter as employees. In situations where there is competition for jobs, some employers will search popular social media sites to get a sense of what someone is like outside the job interview setting.

Our digital footprint can also help us find employment, through LinkedIn, for example.

While many employers recognise the potential value of social media as a CPD tool, they know it could compromise workers’ productivity, and the employer’s integrity.

Most employers have policies on using the internet and social media with which employees should be familiar. Some employers may even ask you to promote the organisation via your social networks.

Promotional activity, whether that’s of your own practice, or the organisation you work for, must be honest, truthful and accurate.

Further guidance is available from the Advertising Standards Agency at: www.asa.org.uk

As CSP members, our digital footprints matter. Principle 2 of the CSP’s Code of Professional Values and Behaviour states that members should behave ethically.

This principle covers issues around confidentiality of information and advertising. It also challenges us to recognise how our personal behaviour, values and activities may impact on our interaction with others. To read the code, visit: www.csp.org.uk and search for ‘code’. fl

Top tips

  • Think before you tweet
  • Remember your digital footprint
  • Read and reflect on the new  CSP guidance
  • Use LinkedIn, for example, to make contacts for your next job
  • Don’t post a message straight after coming home from the pub
  • Don’t compromise patient  confidentiality


Reflecting on my  practice: Gwyn owen

‘I use my Facebook account to link to, reflect on and comment on topical issues relating to politics and healthcare, and to bookmark online resources relevant to my work with CSP members.

I’ve subscribed to feeds from various networks, which means I can access the latest information on relevant topics. I have been quite thoughtful in my choice of feeds – to avoid being overwhelmed with information, and so that my personal and professional values aren’t compromised.

The interactive element of the tool means that it’s a great space for learning through discussion and feedback – I can contribute to someone else’s postings, and receive feedback on my own ones.

I can decide which posts to share, with whom I interact and how that interaction works. Unlike face-to-face communication, pitch, tone and body language are missing, so there is more potential for a comment to be misinterpreted. Although the space is informal, I take time to critique what I’m posting and who can see it – before I click ‘confirm’.

So Facebook has become a safe social space that allows me to keep in touch with friends, learn through reflection and online conversations, and to track changes over time.’  

CPD Activity: checking your digital footprint

If someone is interested in your practice or work, Google is an obvious place to start looking. Why not see how Google has traced your digital footprint by entering your name in the search box at: www.google.co.uk

The next place to visit is your social network profile on iCSP, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Have a look at what messages the following sections present:

  • personal information about your age, relationship, location, religious views interests
  • associated groups
  • comments on wall
  • personal photos.

Does the information presented:

  • compromise your ability to meet the expectations set out by the CSP code (www.csp.org.uk/code)?
  •  meet your employer’s requirements?
  •  give an appropriate impression for prospective employers and clients?  


  • If you’re on a social network outside the CSP’s website, remember to check your security settings before you log out.


Reflexive use of social media

By knowing what tools are available and how they work, and the ground rules governing your use of social media, it’s possible to exploit the CPD potential of social media without compromising professional practice [see CPD activity box, above].    

Members can download copies of the CSP Social Media Guidance from: www.csp.org.uk/socialmediaguidance To join, visit: www.csp.org.uk

Gwyn Owen

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