This is a re-edited and updated post from one I had originally written back in June of 2009 at my other blog. You can read the original post here, and while certain things have changed the core message remains the same.
There have been a number of stories regarding first responders and EMS personnel misusing Social Media and subsequently losing their jobs. There was the South Carolina Paramedic/Firefighter who had posted a video, the paramedic who posted a patient’s X-Rays, and the EMT who had posted photos of a murder victim. All three instances involved the social network Facebook.
Recently there is a story about the National Labor Relations Board finding that an EMT was wrongfully terminated for her Facebook postings. While that may seem like a flip to the side of the responder, its important to understand that the postings did not violate HIPAA or disclose improper information about a patient. The postings had to do with EMT Dawnmarie Souza‘s supervisor and a situation at the job that some of her other co-workers also commented on in support of EMT Souza. While the initial ruling is against the company, American Medical Response of Connecticut, there will be an additional hearing in January of 2011. While discussing working conditions may be considered a protected activity with co-workers, the questions remains whether or not it can still be a protected activity when viewable by those who are not also employees and could potentially be clients. The New York Times has a more detailed account including some of the comments made by Ms. Souza and excerpts of the AMR of Connecticut policies that the NLRB took specific exception to.
It makes me wonder just how many EMS Agencies have a true Social Media Policy for their providers or provided them with guidance of any kind. If I had to make a guess, considering the e-mails I get and those that I talk to, I would dare to say less than 1% of EMS Agencies have one. This is a real problem when it comes to communicating expectations and it isn’t exclusive to the United States but truly is an international dilemma.
Do not mistake an agency Internet Usage Policy for a Social Media Policy. They are NOT the same thing. While an Internet Usage Policy dictates the policy of internet usage at work, a Social Media Policy provides guidance when interacting on social media sites both on and off duty where you may be identified as a responder for the agency.
What Is Social Media?
There are two reasons why I think agencies fail at creating reasonable and enforceable policies. The first is that agencies primarily focus on the worst things that could occur. They see the stories similar to the ones I mentioned above, automatically think that all social media is bad, and therefore they must write a draconian policy prohibiting its use by their personnel which cannot be enforced equitably.
The second reason is that the leadership in these agencies simply do not understand the reasons or power behind social media. Their exposure to it has been limited to the snippets they may see on television about Twitter but very few have actually experienced it first hand. I would highly recommend this video by Common Craft called Social Media In Plain English for every EMS Leader out there over the age of 30.
Any agency that continues in this day and age to lack a Social Media Policy is doing their providers, their patients, and themselves a great disservice.
Developing A Policy
Developing a Social Media Policy can be incredibly easy or become a very tedious chore depending on the depth of control you want to attempt to exert.
All too often policies center around specific types of devices or entities. Don’t allow your social media policy to focus on what the popular networks where social media is created are now, but rather the behaviors and media types on those networks. Specify what can and cannot be shared such as photos and information. Keep in mind that geo-location along with date and time can be used to identify a patient just as easily as a name or address and your policy should put that in the mind of your responders.
Use your policy as an opportunity to educate responders what they should be doing in social media:
- DO text, tweet, photograph, or video while not assigned to a call
- DO text, tweet, or communicate advisory conditions such as traffic, street closures, or bad weather provided you are experiencing the condition first hand
- DO text, tweet, or communicate suspicious activity you may be witnessing without jumping to conclusions
- DO text, tweet, photograph, or video your partner being the trained professional you are
- DO text, tweet, or communicate an exciting, interesting, or good call afterwards without violating confidentiality. You saved a life, and the world should know it and be proud of you for doing so
- Do all texting, tweeting, and communicating safely while not performing another function or duty
You can just as easily use your policy as an opportunity to educate responders what they should not be doing in social media:
- DO NOT potentially violate patient confidentiality by using a camera phone, providing an address, or using a name
- DO NOT text, tweet, photograph, or video while responding to a call
- DO NOT text, tweet, photograph, or video while caring for a patient
- DO NOT text, tweet, or communicate unconfirmed information
- DO NOT use profanity when referring to your co-workers, your supervisor, your agency, or for that matter anyone since that kind of conduct is unprofessional
The less stifling your policy seems, the more favorable you will be viewed by your providers and the more positive your agency will be seen in social media itself. The behaviors above are really no different than the expected online behaviors of anyone else, with perhaps a tad bit more emphasis on the confidentiality of the patient. Your responders will be more than happy to follow your guidelines and meet your expectations if they are reasonable, realistic, and most importantly communicated to them.
A prime example of an unpopular draconian policy, and it’s negative view, is the Wall Street Journal Social Media Policy.
Here are a few resources for policy development:
- HighTechDad has a great guideline to crafting sensible social media policies
- WebInkNow describes the process and flowchart utilized by the United States Air Force Social Media personnel
- Social Media Today offers some important Corporate Social Media Guidelines including where the policy should sit between official agency social media content and responders personal social media content
- See a sample of a Blogging and Social Media Policy that you can use as a basis for your own
- PIO Social Media Training has a number of articles and even has a Social Media Policy Guide available and there are still some (about 50) available for FREE if you use the code given out during this episode of EMS Garage when checking out
People in your communities will be looking for your agency in social media whether you are there or not. Don’t encourage their first impressions of you be a negative one caused by a draconian, unreasonable, and unrealistic policy.
Communicating The Policy
One of the challenges any agency has is its ability to clearly communicate policies. Since we are talking specifically about a Social Media Policy, the best way to communicate the policy is through both traditional means (memo, signed acknowledgements of the receipt of the policy, etc.) but also through Social Media itself. Agencies that develop these policies should take the next step and officially establish themselves within the sphere of Social Media with blogs, Twitter accounts, YouTube Channels, and Facebook Pages.
Lead by example.
Still not sure how to get your agency involved in Social Media? Sign up for the Free E-Mail Bootcamp at PIOSocialMediaTraining.com to help you take those first few steps