Best Practices

Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on, differ from websites, email, news articles, advertising or other communication channels in that they are, well, social. That means they allow for conversation and they are influenced by social and group dynamics.

We have outlined a few best practices that are important if you engage in social media on behalf of a VUMC department or other area. But many of these apply even to your personal social media activity.

First, listen. Observe before you engage. "Listen" to the conversations. See what people are posting before you ever post a word or photo.

Think it through. Have your goals and purpose of participation clear before you start. Know how you will add value. Think before you hit "send" on a post. Might someone misinterpret your intent? What impact might your post have on VUMC or on your profession as a whole.

Be aware that even if you are posting as an individual, if people know that you are an employee at VUMC, it isn't unlikely that your post may reflect on your profession or others at VUMC.

If you have any doubts, don't. What you post will probably exist in some form online forever. 

Add value. Social media at its best is an exchange of helpful or interesting information. In order to be accepted in the community, bring content of value.

Follow VUMC's compliance requirements, policies and guidelines. This includes but is not limited to HIPAA and the disclosure of proprietary information. Remember, if it would be a violation of a policy in real life, it will be a violation on social media. 

Respect professional boundaries. VUMC and most professional healthcare societies and associations discourage "friending" patients on Facebook and similar social networking platforms. These platforms are most often used to connect with family and friends; this can easily blur professional boundaries that should exist between patients and their healthcare providers. Instead, encourage them to "like" and engage with VUMC on its official brand accounts. An exception would be when a personal, "real-life" friendship existed prior to the patient relationship.

Broader professional implications. Be aware that we increasingly see users in social media who want to hold employees accountable for their social media activity as a member of the medical, nursing or research profession. Example: This person is known on social media to be a nurse at VUMC.

Be respectful. Don't post material that is profane, libelous, obscene, threatening, abusive, harassing, hateful, defamatory or embarrassing to anyone.

Follow the law. Don't post content that violates any state or federal laws. Get permission to use or reproduce copyrighted content.

Be yourself and be transparent. Social media is all about transparency and connecting personally. Don’t hide your identity or affiliations. Show your personality.

Use a disclaimer. If you participate in online media and you reveal your affiliation with VUMC or your content has something to do with your work here, state that your opinions are your own and do not represent the views of the organization. One way to do this is to add "views are my own" or similar langauge to the bio on your social media account. Another is to note in a comment "Discloure: I am an employee of VUMC." 

Don't spread misinformation. When we first wrote these practices 10 years ago, this wasn't included. It seemed obvious you wouldn't do that. Since that time, the spread of misinformation across social media has become a concern. It is easy to share inaccurate information unintentionally. Be a good citizen -- make sure that the information you are sharing is accurate.

Don’t be argumentative. Especially if you are speaking from a VUMC account, arguing is not a good look. It is rarely effective at changing minds. 

What you say can and will be used against you. Everything you say or do online is likely to be stored forever, even if you delete it. It's easy to slip into feeling like a social media conversation is a private text with your BFF -- remember, it's not. 

What you say can reflect on others. If people know that you work at VUMC or in the healthcare profession, your posts may be viewed as reflecting on either one.

It's not a one-way conversation. It's more like a party where you meet people, find common ground and share. Posting things that are only about yourself is like jumping on the coffee table at a party and shouting about how great you are. Don/t do it.

Use your best judgment. If you have any doubt, don't. If you are unsure about your post, discuss content with your manager before commenting.