A new type of leadership: how an NHS trust CEO uses social media

Highland Marketing attended ‘Social media in healthcare,’ an intimate event predominately attended by medics, CEOs and communications teams from the NHS looking to share their experiences and learn more about how to use social media. But one particular presentation by Mark Newbold, CEO of Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust was particularly powerful in explaining how and why he became an advocate of social media.

Mark Newbold, is a well-known advocate of social media; he has his own website where he blogs and comments weekly, is a member of LinkedIn and has more than 3,500 followers on Twitter.

Newbold told the conference how his journey into social media began with the trust’s communications team, who had made a decision to focus their communications strategy to engage with the public and staff rather than ‘telling’ them information through a one-way conversation.

In addition, Newbold was becoming frustrated by the way leadership is perceived in the NHS as being bureaucratic and how he wanted to open up managerial decision making by putting in public domain.

Now he believes that the large majority of his staff that use social media follow him (some openly, some anonymously) and gives him a far more personal way to interact with them. In fact more people read his opinions through social medial channels than through the trust’s newsletter.

During his presentation he said: “I have conversations about the Leicester City football team with one member of staff on an almost daily basis; I’m not sure who it is but it’s a far more accessible way of relating to staff.”

Most of Newbold’s tweets and blog posts are opinions and comments on topical issues at a policy level, meanwhile asking for thoughts and opinions in order to inform future decision. He avoids personal tweets and tweeting specifically about individuals or other organisations.

Newbold believes that social media provides a huge opportunity to address many of the issues in the Francis Report around transparency and openness.

Social media can do a number of things to enhance transparency: “It makes me contactable, it makes my decisions easy to challenge, open to debate and comment.”

He adds that the trust’s presence on social media is changing the dynamic of the comments and complaints process, by increasing visibility and access.

“The number of formal complaints has dropped dramatically, many people would prefer to put such comments through social media as they are acted on in real-time and they feel that there will be a more personal response.”

Newbold often uses Twitter search hashtags for information that has been posted about the trust and tweets that have been posted whole at the trust, to give him greater visibility of any issues.

On a more personal level, Newbold finds that in his top three reasons to use social media is the vast amount of information it provides him with on breaking news.

In terms of challenges of social media in the NHS Newbold names a few, all of which could be overcome. Firstly he said that many staff are afraid of social media and therefore do not use it or act anonymously. He added that while a communications team should have a policy for staff in place, it should not need to extend much further than the traditional staff guidelines for confidentiality in the NHS.

In addition, he highlighted how poor access to social media sites due to technical constraints in the NHS can often stall both patient and staff engagement. However, he added that having free wifi in wards for patients and communal areas for staff can help to resolve this issue.

He concluded: “Health is a sensitive and important area to everyone, so it’s important not to be frivolous in anyway. Ultimately, social media has made me feel much more informed, in touch and given a much more human approach to the organisation.”

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