Adam James, founder of Springup PR
By Adam James
(This article originally appeared in Care Management Matters magazine)
Facebook is rapidly becoming the care home operator’s social media platform of choice – by enabling homes to communicate and engage with resident families and local audiences, including reaching prospective families.
Some homes have, nevertheless, refrained from venturing onto Facebook for a variety of reasons, including a feeling it will not protect residents’ privacy.
This reasoning is fine. But holding dear to this sentiment is increasingly less common in light of the fact that a written agreement with every resident – or their family – can enable residents to opt-out of their name, photo or any of their details from being used on a care home’s social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
“A written agreement with every resident – or their family – can enable residents to opt-out of their name, photo or any of their details from being used on a care home’s social media platforms, be it Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin”
The reality on the care home coal face is it is now largely expected for a home to have a Facebook page. Indeed, some may perceive a care home as “behind the times” if it does not.
The Care Quality Commission itself has no official guidelines or regulation on using Facebook or other social media.
But operators may be interested to know that Andrea Sutcliffe, the CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, emailed me to convey her opinion that social media “can have a positive impact in so many different ways” adding that any regulation “should not be seen as standing in the way of creative and innovative activities that enrich the lives of people who need care.”
This comes with her qualification that “it is a basic expectation that people living in care homes should be treated with dignity and respect and any circumstance that does not support this approach is simply not acceptable.”
Workforce development body, Skills For Health, has itself compiled a extensive “Social Media Toolkit For Healthcare” which provides examples of successful social media strategies that care providers can use.
“It’s important to recognize the value social media can add to an organization,” states the toolkit.
* You control Facebook admins + you have power to delete
For starters, it’s useful to emphasise that, as a care home, you do have control who “posts” on your Facebook page’s “timeline”.
And its advisable to limit Facebook “admin” status to staff you trust with the responsibility of representing your home to the world (you can keep your Facebook page as a ‘closed group’ so it’s only viewable to resident families, for example, and not members of the public.)
Plus, your Facebook admin can delete any posts and comments on your page. They also have the power to ban people from posting, and can even ‘review’ every single post to your page before publication.
These Facebook features enable you to have a satisfying level of control on what is communicated via your home’s Facebook page to its ‘friends’. This is particularly helpful for any home seeking a slow-level entry into Facebook.
* What are the risks of Facebook?
Running a care home carries risks in various areas of its operations. A care home Facebook page is no different.
Here’s some unsavoury examples reported by the media in recent years.
In July 2012, two care home assistants in Sussex were suspended and reported to social services after they posted pictures on Facebook mocking elderly residents (the posts were not on the home’s Facebook page)
In August last year a Glasgow care home worker was reported for having posted hateful messages about Muslims on her Facebook page (again, the posts were not on the home’s Facebook page)
Such repugnant and malicious Facebook activity by care staff can happen irrespective of whether a care home has a Facebook page or not. Any member of the public can have a Facebook or Twitter account and as an employer you have little say as to what they, as a private individual, communicate to their ‘friends’ or ‘followers’.
In August 2016 a care home manager was sacked for posting three photos of residents on her own Facebook page. Surrey County Council had said the manager breached social media policy to identify a resident.
* Why your home must have social media/Facebook guidelines
While councils seem more likely to have stringent social media guidelines, the above examples highlight why it’s important for your home, or provider, to have some social media/Facebook guidelines.
Such guidelines will help communicate to your staff how the home’s Facebook page is managed and operated.
The guidelines can (i) clarify the aims of your Facebook and social media platforms e.g. informing resident families of what’s going in the home (ii) detail how these aims can be achieved e.g. by engaging with families and ‘friends’ of the home via photos and video (iii) provide a specific code of practice for your home’s Facebook ‘admins’, (iv) outline to ‘admins’ how to respond should there be social media activity that is negative to your care home e.g. a critical review on your care home Facebook page (v) provide expectations on how staff members present themselves on social media
* Facebook – “word of mouth” for the digital age
The positive power of Facebook lies in its capacity as a mouthpiece to “get the word out there” about your home to your audiences – everyone from resident families, to GPs to local councilors, to supporters and ‘friends’ of the home.
“The positive power of Facebook lies in its capacity as a mouthpiece to “get the word out there” about your home to your audiences – everyone from resident families, to GPs to local councilors, to supporters and ‘friends’ of the home.”
Facebook is arguably the most fluid and rapid communication channel to keep audiences up to date – on everything from what residents had for lunch, to a day out to the park, to what happened at the weekly activities class, to snippets of interesting information about your staff.
When your Facebook page is running off the energy of its own momentum, and with firm and loyal ‘friends’ and fans, your staff and resident families can become your home’s leading advocates, helping disseminate to their Facebook friends about your home’s quality care provision. All care homes live and breath off their ‘word of mouth’ reputation, and Facebook is the digital age’s word of mouth.
Moreover, I’ve witnessed how an active Facebook page becomes a dynamic platform to attract job applications. Considering the on-going recruitment headache for care providers, every care home is likely to have an interest in exploiting such an opportunity.
* “Accelerated engagement” on Facebook
If your home already has a Facebook page you’ll likely have discovered this potential to engage with target audiences, while also operating as a useful marketing and PR tool.
Plus, by dipping into the data you’ll have found out that photos and videos are, usually, what gets most interest, in terms of ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘comments’. Such activity is ‘run of the mill’ engagement every home should do.
But ‘accelerated engagement’ with your local community via competitions or other tailor-made campaigns can quickly and dramatically improve the engagement rate of your Facebook page. Such accelerated engagement does require additional thought and planning.
For example, a ‘Win A Food Hamper’ Facebook competition we ran on behalf of a care home involved a hamper, packed with locally-made produce, being donated to the home by a neighbouring farm shop.
Anyone could enter the two-week competition, hosted on the home’s Facebook page, by answering a question on what village the care home overlooked.
Every day for two weeks interesting content was posted to the dedicated competition page in order to generate publicity and entries, and a winner was randomly chosen after the two weeks.
The beauty of Facebook is that all engagement data is recorded – and the stand-out Facebook data for this competition was:
(i) It had the highest organic reach of any previous Facebook post from the care home over the previous two years
(ii) Page ‘Likes’ for the home’s Facebook page went up over the course of the campaign by 23% (312 – 383 ‘likes’)
(iii) The ‘competition, which received 40 entries, had more ‘shares’ than any other of the care home’s posts.
Moreover, Facebook’s advertising options, such as ‘boosting’ posts or ‘sponsored content’, together with ever-increasing precision to reach target audiences means, for example, that you can pay for your post to be viewed by, let’s say, “people aged 45-60, who live in a particular town and who have an interest in elderly care”.
Facebook is ever modifying and adding to its features. A new addition is, for example, ‘pages to watch’. This enables you, as a care home, to compare your home’s Facebook page to other homes in your region.
“Facebook is ever modifying and adding to its features. A new addition is, for example, ‘pages to watch’. This enables you, as a care home, to compare your home’s Facebook page to other homes in your region”
For example, for a care home Facebook page we manage I can see that its page has 526 ‘likes’, while three other local homes have 171, 91 and 0 ‘likes’ respectively. I can also notice that one of the other homes is evidently working hard on its Facebook page as its engagement rate over the last week has spiked markedly.
On a final note, while either single home operators or small care groups tend to have specific Facebook pages for their individual homes, the bigger group operators tend not to have dedicated Facebook pages for each of their homes. As homes and resident families increasingly move online this may leverage opportunities for the smaller operators to forge an advantageous digital impression and reputation for their homes over the bigger operators.