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Can social media improve service quality? #NCF2014

25 May 2014 - No Comments

Last week I had the absolute pleasure to attend #NCF2014, the annual conference of the National Care Forum. This year’s conference saw a room full of Chief Execs, Trustees and colleagues from care provider organisations debating the eternal question of how best to focus on Bringing Quality to Life. The conference opened with this film, made by FlixFilms, it features people providing and receiving care in three settings, discussing what quality means to them:

National Care Forum – Bringing Quality to Life from Flix Films on Vimeo.

The programme for the two days was packed with a great balance of keynote speakers and workshops, and people really seemed to be keen to learn and engage. I was invited some time ago to give a keynote on the role of social media in improving service quality. As I joked in the presentation I’m not sure whether I came up with this title, or it was given to me, but it’s really a bit rubbish (so I suspect it was mine), it’s a little like asking ‘can a photocopier improve service quality’, but more on that later.

My presentation was on Day Two which I always find a bit of a mixed blessing, there’s something nice about getting it out of the way on the opening day and truly being able to relax and enjoy the remaining time, but there is one huge advantage of not speaking until the second day, and that’s you have a little of an idea about how your audience may react! At #NCF2014 this proved to be a mixed blessing, what I found out quite quickly was probably in itself not too surprising, that there was a real mixture of enthusiasm and curiosity towards social media, but with the balance tipping towards dark arts over useful tool! I was also lucky to be able to attend a workshop given by Paul Hodgkin, Chair of Care Opinion, which also exposed me to a number of people who were genuinely interested to know more. So I went to bed feeling a little apprehensive about whether I’d pitch it right when it came to speaking.

The presentation is in seven parts: introduction to me and a health warning; introduction to social media and quality improvement; purpose of social media; learning/case studies; JusticeforLB; science and theory; feelings and take home messages.

Introduction to me and health warning (Slides 1-8)

The first slide features a photo of a venn graph from JessicaHagy and was used to acknowledge that on this occasion people couldn’t readily interrupt, talk and stop me if I didn’t make sense, but to encourage them to come and talk to me later. I started the presentation with a nod to interactivity by asking for word associations, When I say social media, you say…. twitter, facebook, video, instagram, snapchat, blogs [this was good, an enthusiastic audience with some knowledge], I then moved on to …and how does it make you feel?… interested, inspired, confused, curious, overwhelmed, ill [not the ideal opener but completely appreciated the honesty – this really was a mixed audience].

The slides that follow introduce myself (I love that picture from google images of me at the end of a row of bearded men), my twitter presence, a treasured picture that was my leaving present from my last job drawn by the amazing Nat, my grandfather during the Burma campaign, his fountain pen (a treasured gift) and my grandparents together. These introduced me to the audience but were also used to issue a health warning to beware of experts selling social media to them. I drew the analogy to the fact that my Grandad spent his life sending postcards and writing to the editor of the local paper, if he were alive now he could use twitter and blog instead. The platforms we use and the technology may be new, but the real science of sharing information for connection, isn’t really.

More on that health warning? To not believe the hype and to remember that everyone is able to master social media with a little practice, it’s a bit like learning to swim, you can’t do it without getting wet. There are (still) people parading as social media experts and gurus, I’m not one, I am interested in how it can be used but I’m not claiming to be an expert in the traditional sense. Always important to share when you’re on a stage in front of people, transparency and honesty are key in my book.

Introduction to social media and it’s potential role in quality improvement (Slides 9-23)

These slides share the wikipedia definition of social media (the key elements being create, share and exchange in virtual communities and networks), the conversation prism from Brian Solis and then a series of slides that I used to illustrate the point that social media is a vehicle, much like a photocopier or a telephone, and it’s of limited value unless you know what journey you wish to take – old blog post on that point here. Much like I imagine photocopiers were received in times gone by, there are huge benefits to be gained, but you can also waste a lot of time, feel that everything needs copying because you can, and you also need to account for maintenance (even if that is in relationships not physically repairing the machine). Of course when you move that analogy onto telephones it is a little different, because the point was made that nowadays, irrespective of their corporate approach to IT, social media or communications, nearly every member of their staff will have a mobile phone on them and the potential to share events in real time. Paul in his workshop used the phrase that ‘the mobile phone is democratising voice‘ and I shared this again to the wider audience, reminding them that they could not afford to ignore this any longer, and perhaps more importantly that social media had a potential role to play in improving things for them. The key focus on transparency and connections were also mentioned.

Purpose of social media (Slides 24-30)

These slides used Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation to shape a comment about how social media, much like other media, could be used or misused. I’ve blogged about this in detail before here, so I’ll not repeat it, but the slides that followed were used to discuss the many benefits and considerations. Social media as a tool to share information or to broadcast; as a way to gather information and to engage meaningfully and change the way people using services are involved in service design and quality developments; as a tool for recruitment and retention of staff, and of course as a tool to help support imagination, creation and learning. The second life screen-grabs were from #UKKMbF14 and you can read more about that experience here.

Learning and case studies (Slides 31-53)

This was the real filling of the presentation, a whistle-stop tour of some great examples of social media use. There are so many to choose from, these are not necessarily the best, but were chosen for their ability to illustrate certain points:

Lt Gen David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army on youtube – this illustrates a whole range of points, values-based leadership, not shying away from social media in a crisis (even with an ongoing police investigation), good use of video to engage staff and wider audience, and the slide that follows showed how his catchphrase has been adopted within the NHS.

The Winter Friends pledge bank slides were used to illustrate how a pledge bank could work, how you needed to consider what would happen if people needed support once they’d pledged, and to be honest a not great example of NHS Choices not really listening and responding to the concerns raised.

Care Quality Commission were holding their monthly board meeting on the same morning as my presentation, if the timings had been kinder my intention was to beam the audience onto the CQC Digital Comms channel on YouTube enabling them to watch the board meeting in real time. Instead we used the recording from the month before to show them Andrea (who’d opened the conference the day before) sharing her social care update. A powerful example not just of the board meeting itself, but also of the transparency that (in my opinion) CQC are leading in the social care sector.

The blogs slides sought to show a range of approaches and uses to blogging including Andrea’s weekly CQC blog, a recent post about the Better Care Fund on the DH site from the ADASS President David Pearson who’d also spoken the day before, the brilliant Fighting Monsters blog was also included because it has a treasure chest of an archive and remains my personal favourite example of a frontline social worker’s blog. A fortnight ago LGiU had a daily feature of a Diary of a home care worker, this was included as an example of how social media could be used to raise awareness of the types of challenges and small triumphs that many staff face on a daily basis. Jonathan Fagge‘s weekly blog and diary entry was held up as an example of transparency and potential tools for accountability, and of course the NCF’s own blog was included as a really, genuinely useful collection of posts from members and NCF staff.

The slides that follow are relatively self explanatory and refer to a conversation I had online with Bill Mumford the weekend before conference. I was explicit in pointing out that it was no specific criticism of Bill, so much as a very current and real example of where social media could have been used to better effect. There’s a full post on it here, Is social media really disrupting leadership? looking at whether leaders are prepared for social media and the potential role it can, and is, playing. Care Opinion and Patient Opinion were held up as examples of people who are using stories and narrative to improve things, Social Care Curry Club was used as an example of social media as a tool to support networking and boost morale. The Panorama slides were included to show the response on social media to the programme, and the more traditional approach that NCF (and many other provider organisations) took by issuing a press release and letter to the Guardian the next day. I wished to make the point that these developments happen in real time, and the next day is not necessarily quick enough! I then included a little plug for National Care Homes Open Day.

In-depth case study: JusticeforLB (Slides 54-60)

The next few slides allowed me to share some insights into a social media campaign that I am involved with JusticeforLB. I have blogged about this here before, and for an overview of the first half of the #107days campaign check out this post Indignation and initiative versus institutional inertia by Guardian journalist, Saba Salman. I talked a little about Connor Sparrowhawk (LB – laughing boy), where the campaign had come from, the dangers of blocking accounts, the actions so far, the role of social media in galvanising and harnessing outrage and turning it into something useful, and I ended by mentioning the Justice Quilt. [If you’d like to know more see below].

Science and theory (Slides 61-63)

These few slides were included to highlight a new report out this month from the Health Foundation. The Evidence Scan, Spreading improvement ideas, contains the findings from empirical research included in 477 studies. It’s a great overview and pays heed to social media, so I flagged it up. Also mentioned was a matrix that has been around for a wee while (since Feb 2013) from McKinsey that looks at Six social-media skills every leader needs.

Feelings and take home messages (Slides 64-71)

The final slides were a nod to how people might feel now, having been exposed to all of those thoughts and ideas. Last month I remember reading a quote from Thea Stein, CEO of Carers Trust, in a Guardian interview she describes social media as ‘a high-wire act without a safety net but it makes the most wonderful connections’. I thought it was worth fronting up how overwhelming and daunting and scary this can be, but also the joys and successes of new connections and performing well. The other slides were used to indicate how else it might feel.

The penultimate slide was a link to my crowdfunding page, a cheap plug but also an offer.

Hair today, gone tomorrow? May2014 from George on Vimeo.

I am shaving my head to raise funds for two causes close to my heart (Rowcroft Hospice who cared for my Dad, and JusticeforLB raising funds to cover legal costs at Connor’s inquest). The top pledge, of £1000, offers a half day workshop facilitated by myself and Sara Ryan, looking at how we have used social media to support the JusticeforLB campaign. So, if you would like to know more about the potential role of social media for your organisation or business, especially in relation to social care and what happens when things go wrong, do get in touch.

Alternatively if you have found this post in any way useful, and I have hyperlinked all my sources above so you can reuse to your hearts content, please feel free to pledge your support and donate a couple quid if you think I may have saved you some time or shared something of use. Thank you.

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