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Social media's importance

February 1, 2009
by Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
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I readily admit that when I first heard about “social media” I was skeptical. Even if you aren't familiar with the term, you undoubtedly have heard plenty about social media. Prominent examples include blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and social news sites such as StumbleUpon and Digg (You've probably seen icons for them on articles you've read online). I thought social media was just a passing fad for geeks and teenagers, and that certainly it wouldn't have any application to behavioral healthcare organizations. But I've quickly learned that not only is social media here to stay (and fun!), it has great strategic importance for mental healthcare and substance use treatment providers.

As the Internet brings people together, old barriers are breaking down. For example, “citizen journalists” post news and photos in their blogs, online profiles, and Wikipedia as events happen, sometimes beating media outlets to the stories. The media's traditional role as supplier of news and information is changing. Readers now have new tools to share their ideas and new places to find and report information.

Behavioral healthcare organizations' traditional role as deliverers of treatment is changing, too. As more and more embrace a recovery model, consumers' increased involvement in services is breaking down paternalistic relationships. Consumers are being turned to as the experts on mental illness and drug problems, and some are even coming onboard as staff members (“peer employees”).

In this changing environment, in which consumers are encouraged to speak up and share their ideas, there is great potential to use social media to further break down client-staff barriers and, hopefully, lead to better outcomes. A few agency CEOs already have recognized this and are using blogs to communicate directly with consumers—and anyone else who is interested or stops by the Web site. Although blog writing is not part of chief executives' job descriptions now, it soon may be. I envision a CEO using her blog to call on readers to contact their state legislators (made simple with e-mail links) to argue against cuts to behavioral healthcare funding.

Social media also can be a great way for behavioral healthcare executives to share ideas with each other, ask for help, and recruit top-level talent. To that end, Behavioral Healthcare has its own group on the professional social networking site LinkedIn (The link is at http://behavioral.net). Our group's members have been sharing/discussing online news articles and asking each other for advice (One CEO recently asked, “What happens to the organization when the CEO marries the vice-president? Has anyone experienced this?”). Check out our group and also join in the conversation by commenting on our Web site's blogs (If you are interested in sharing your thoughts in your own blog, please send me an e-mail). And if you'd like to be in the loop about new blog posts and articles on our Web site, subscribe to our Twitter feed at http://www.twitter.com/bhmagazine.

I've posted links to several informative articles on social media in my blog at http://behavioral.net. If you're hungry for more, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare will have a social media idea lab at its conference in San Antonio in April. Let me know how you and your organization are using social media. I look forward to reading your comments, insights, and ideas in cyberspace!



Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
Behavioral Healthcare 2009 February;29(2):4
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