Experimenting with being sociable

Me and my communications and engagement team at Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust are trying to increase our online sociability. That means ramping up our affability, geniality and general helpfulness (well what’s the point of having a thesaurus if you don’t use it…).

I’d describe our approach as taking lots of little steps (aka Trojan Mice) which are gradually building momentum over the days, weeks and months.

The first thing to say is social media can bring so many opportunities to be more engaging. One of our tactics is to keep our eye out, learn from others and experiment. These new tools are so quick and easy to use that it is possible to go from nothing to something rather marvellous in a blink of an eye.

Secondly, rather than thinking we have to do it all ourselves, we are helping and supporting staff and teams to increase their sociability. For example, when we chatted with people using and working in our learning disabilities services about social media, there was initial nervousness; ‘how could this be relevant to us?’ But all it took was a group discussion around a live demonstration of Pinterest and the group were off and haven’t looked back since. They are finding it a fantastic way to capture the recipes they create in their Your Health Matters group, photographing each step and then pinning it to a virtual board. This way they can share what they’ve learnt with family, friends and other workers – simple, easy and effective. We then shared our learning in an #nhssm chat and got loads of ideas and links to help us develop our thinking further, as well as hopefully helping others.

I firmly believe that being sociable online is only worth the effort if you’re helping people using and working in services to develop the skills and confidence to get involved themselves. In September last year we experimented with a one-day event full of workshops on different topics related to social media and we got a fabulous mix of people using mental health services, volunteers, occupational therapists, nurses, psychiatrists, managers and even some PR professionals, all learning from each other. I personally get a real buzz out of that disruption to the usual order of things – people coming together on as level a playing field as we can create.

Now we’re about to begin experimenting with monthly social media surgeries and already have people volunteering to help us deliver them. If they go well, we hope to add informal sessions on different topics such as professional/personal identity and so on.

It’s such a delight going round talking to interested people and groups – spreading a spark of interest (aka social glow) in how they might develop their own sociability. I think this sort of effort is well worth it. It’s like lighting lots of tiny pieces of paper in the hope that they catch alight and a whole fire starts burning. And, this stuff isn’t mandatory either; it isn’t required by a national target or central directive. That’s why we can work with the power of attraction rather than the push of compliance. It isn’t for everyone and it’s important not to overstate the benefits, but for many the pull is becoming irresistible.

Whilst lighting the fires, it is also important to pay attention to getting the architecture right so we have a clear sense of purpose and means of measuring if we’re achieving our intentions. Firstly this means reviewing our web presence to make sure we get the right balance between a consistent easy-to-find and understood information and a flexibility for individual services to engage with their specialist audiences. This is going to take some investment. Then we need to make sure we have the right supporting policies in place to keep people safe. A recent series of chats about social media in inpatient settings made it clear to us that we need to prioritise getting this right, so inpatients can continue their sociability whilst we ensure the privacy of others is protected.

This only scratches the surface and we have many schemes and plans and quite a degree of making it up as we go – here’s to experiments with being more sociable, watch this space.

Victoria Betton
Deputy Director of Strategy and Partnerships
Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust




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