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Guidance on the use of social media

This page sets out how our standards relate to the use of social media, tips for using social networks effectively and answers to questions that we are frequently asked. These include what you can share, appropriate professional boundaries, and inappropriate or offensive material.

 

Guidance on the use of social media

1. Top tips

The following are some top tips for using social media in a way which meets our standards. Information about how to put these into practice is below.

  • Think before you post. Assume that what you post could be shared and read by anyone.
  • Think about who can see what you share and manage your privacy settings accordingly. Remember that privacy settings cannot guarantee that something you post will not be publicly visible.
  • Maintain appropriate professional boundaries if you communicate with colleagues, service users or carers.
  • Do not post confidential or service user identifiable information.
  • Do not post inappropriate or offensive material. Use your professional judgement about whether something you share falls below the professional standards expected of you.
  • If you are employed, you will also need to ensure you follow your employer’s social media policy.
  • When in doubt, seek advice. Appropriate sources might include experienced colleagues, trade unions and professional bodies. You can also contact us if you are unsure about our standards. If you think something could be inappropriate or offensive, refrain from posting it.
  • Keep on posting! We know that many registrants find using social media beneficial and do so without any issues. There’s no reason why registrants shouldn’t keep on using it with confidence.

2. How to use social media


  • Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics say:

    ‘You must treat information about service users as confidential’ (5.1)

    Confidentiality is an essential consideration in all areas of a professional’s practice, and is particularly important in the context of social media.

    When you post information about another person on social media, think about whether it is appropriate to share that information. If the information is confidential and/or could allow a service user to be identified, you should not put it on a site without their consent. This could include information about their personal life, health or circumstances, or images relating to their care.

    For consent to be valid, it must be voluntary and informed, and the person giving consent must have the capacity to make the decision. They must understand and not object to:

    • the information being disclosed or shared;
    • the reason for the disclosure;
    • the people or organisations the information will be shared with; and
    • how the information will be used.

    Your primary focus should be on delivering the best possible care to meet the service user’s needs. A service user who is anxious, distressed or in pain may be unable to give informed consent to anything other than immediate care.

    Even if you have the highest level of privacy settings, something you share online can quickly be copied and redistributed to a much wider audience. This means a post can stay in the public domain after you delete it. Try to stay up to date with any changes to the privacy settings of the social media platforms you use. If you are unsure whether to post, stop and seek advice first from an experienced colleague, professional body or trade union.

    For further information, please see the HCPC’s Guidance on Confidentiality.


  • The standards of conduct, performance and ethics say:

    ‘You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites’ (2.7)

    You should apply the same standards as you would when communicating in other ways when using social media. Be polite and respectful, and avoid using language that others might reasonably consider to be inappropriate or offensive. Use your professional judgement in deciding whether to post or share something. Remember that comments or posts may be taken out of context, or made visible to a wider audience than originally intended.


  • Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics say:

    ‘You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession’ (9.1)

    This means you need to think about who can see what you share. Make sure you understand the privacy settings of each social media channel that you use. Even on a completely personal account, your employer, colleagues or service users may be able to see your posts or personal information. It is best to assume that anything you post online will be visible to everyone.

    Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics say:

    ‘You must make sure that any promotional activities you are involved in are accurate and are not likely to mislead’ (9.3)

    If you use social media to advertise or share information related to your professional practice, you must make sure it is fair and true to the best of your knowledge. You may choose to include a disclaimer on your profile that your views are your own, and that they do not represent the views of your employer or those who contract your services.


  • Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics say:

    ‘You must keep your relationships with service users and carers professional.’ (1.7)

    Some professionals find using social media a valuable way of communicating with service users and the public. However, social media can blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. It is just as important to maintain appropriate boundaries when using social media as it would be if you were communicating through any other medium. You must always communicate with service users in a professional manner.

    You might decide to set up a separate professional account where you provide general information for service users and the public. If you are employed and plan to use this account to have direct contact with service users, you should first agree whether this is appropriate with your employer.

    Keep in mind that service users may still be able to find and contact you via your personal account. If this happens, we recommend that you decline invitations, follows or friend requests. If appropriate, indicate that you cannot mix social and professional relationships. If you wish to follow up any contact you receive, consider using a more secure communication channel, such as your professional email account.

    We recognise that as social media/networking is evolving rapidly, and that as use of these tools increases, there are increasingly blurred lines between professional and personal use. Registrants should take account of the Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, and Standards of proficiency to assist them in determining that distinction, using their professional judgement to come to a final decision.

    If you include content relating to your professional role on a personal account or vice versa, think about whether you would be happy for these different audiences to see the material you post. Think carefully about what you share and who can see it.    

  • We know social media can help our registrants in a variety of ways:

    • Some use social media messaging services to help them communicate quickly and effectively with colleagues across hospitals to ensure service user care is the best it can be; checking approaches with supervisors, and considering complex cases in a time effective way. In doing so, registrants should be mindful not to share personal details, and take care to follow employer policies.
    • A great deal of learning is carried out through social networking platforms, where colleagues undertaking weekend CPD activities come together to discuss specialist areas of practice, making use of a wider pool of individuals, available at any time. Registrants should be mindful to maintain appropriate professional boundaries and not to post inappropriate material.
    • Some registrants use news and social networking services to raise the profile of their profession and reach out to the public. This can be a quick and easy way to show people how dedicated and hardworking our registrants are, show the public what they do, and highlight the services they provide. When sharing live information in order to raise the profile of the profession, registrants should take care to only share information required to achieve that objective, and they should act in accordance with relevant employer policies. They should post in a modest manner; only providing the information the public needs to understand the role, and they should ensure any additional information, in particular service user identifiable information, isn’t included. Your primary focus should be on delivering the best possible care to meet the service user’s needs. It is important to remember that a service user who is anxious, distressed or in pain may be unable to give informed consent to anything other than immediate care, such as participation in live social media tweets.
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About our guidance

We work on the principle of ‘professional self-regulation’. This means you have a personal responsibility to maintain and manage your own fitness to practise.

Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics set out the criteria that all our registrants must meet. Within them, our requirements are outlined. To help registrants meet these we’ve produced additional material.

Read our standards of conduct, performance and ethics

Published:
28/09/2020
Audience
Registrants, Students
Page updated on: 24/02/2021
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