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Separating personas in social networking: the 'professional' and 'personal'


Many of us will decide to use social networking sites like Facebook to stay in touch with our family and friends.

It’s great fun and we’ll enjoy the experience and find that it enriches our family and social lives. We may also take advantage of resources like Skype to communicate in new ways and some of us may be tweeting like mad, or having online conversations that were unimaginable five years or so ago.

The guidance from the NMC makes it clear that it is perfectly fine to participate in social media but gives us sensible guidelines to follow. Here is a link to the advice from the NMC.

This blog is about trying to unravel how we might apply these guidelines in a practical way.

Why am I here and who am I here?

The first and most important thing is to decide what it is you want to get out of social networking. If you want to use it for connecting with family and friends you might need to think about how you achieve this. Are you clear on how you will separate the professional aspects of your life? Of course, some of your work colleagues will also be your friends, nurses and midwives forge close friendships through working together. But do you always think about the nature of your relationship before accepting friends on Facebook? I, for one, will not accept a friend request from someone I work with unless it is a true friendship - it’s how I manage to separate my personal and professional personas in social media. So the first part of doing this well is being clear about why you are participating in a social network and making sensible decisions about who you want to be and who to connect to as a result.

You also need to be clear about whether you want people to openly know you are a nurse or midwife in a social network. For example, if are using a network like Facebook or Twitter does your profile say you are a nurse? You need to be aware that if you broadcast your profession you will be viewed as acting in that capacity all the time and need to be aware of your responsibility in upholding the reputation of the profession. Even if you don’t declare your profession, you may still be judged in this way if something goes wrong.

Understand the security settings

The next practical thing you can do is to check your security settings. Most systems will allow you to put some constraints on who can see your posts, photographs etc. Make sure you understand them and you are comfortable with the results. My Facebook account, which is where I have my family and friends activity has been set so it’s visible to ‘friends’ only and I’m increasingly careful about who I accept as a friend. I also check the security settings regularly as some sites change their security rules quite frequently and I want to make sure I am up-to-date. I would never accept a friend request from a patient - just my personal rule!

Pause before posting

Another ‘rule of thumb’ is to pause before you post. No matter how high your security setting is on your account it is likely your posts will be visible to quite a few people. Is what you are posting suitable for that audience? It’s really easy to post in haste and regret at leisure! You can often delete posts but actually once it is posted its hard to make sure no one has seen it.

What does being ‘professional’ mean?

I read an interesting article on an Allied Health Professional’s site about professionalism that encourages the professions to talk about this subject. I believe in nursing that we may need to do the same.

Some things seem obvious to me like never talking about a patient or their family/carers or my boss. Never posting pictures of patients, clients or work. However, other things seem more difficult. At what point does a photograph of a nurse who may have had a few drinks become wrong? These judgements are more difficult and sometimes we need to think carefully before posting about our private lives. By following rule number 3, it will give you the time to think before you post,- would you feel comfortable with one of your patients or your chief executive seeing the post? If not, simply do not post it.

One of the challenges of being a nurse or midwife is that your professional responsibilities apply to all aspects of your life, not just while you are in uniform or in role. Social media is a fantastic way of communicating but like everything we do, we should be careful about how we do it! So I have outlined above some basics for being a professional while using social networks. In my next blog, I will explore how we can use social media positively for professional development.

Again - all comments are welcome.

Anne Cooper, National Clinical Lead for Nursing


Readers' comments (2)

  • A interesting comment on the NMC advice concerning the use of 'social networking' media. It seems sensible to separate the 'professional' and work-related 'stuff' from the 'personal' for good reasons.

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  • What happened to freedom of expression? The NMC, or any other regulatory body for that matter, would be on thin ground if it can think it is able to dictate to a person what they say and do outside the gamut of that profession.
    Getting drunk is not a crime in this country. If it's about upholding the publics perception ( whatever that means) then nurses have to be struck off if photographed leaving Maccie D's with a quaterpounder

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