Two years is a long time in the digital world. So when I came to work in the Department of Health (DH) digital team after a career break of 2 years, I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do. Twitter for instance. I’d never used it professionally and certainly not for ‘digital policy engagement’, which was also a new concept.
It’s hard to understand twitter if you don’t use it and some months down the line I still find myself trying to explain – not terribly successfully – what it is and why it’s now so vital to my work. I think plenty of people still think twitter is all about celebrity gossip and pictures of cats and I suppose it is for many. But now I realise that twitter is different for every person, depending on what conversations they are tapped into.
I set up an account @AnnaHepburnDH to represent me in my work role, making a conscious decision not to include my views on Strictly Come Dancing or cakes that I’ve baked. This is an official account, one of the 3 types of account described in the Department’s twitter guidance. So it’s me – not the whole me – but still me, a real person.
The @DHgovuk twitter account has more than 47,000 followers and it provides a very effective way of highlighting DH stories and driving traffic to our sites. But when it comes to getting to know an online community, showing interest, enthusiasm and empathy, you need to be a real person.
The dementia world on twitter is rich with emotion. Sometimes there is the anger and frustration you might expect from people living, caring and working with dementia. But the most dominant feelings are of positivity, compassion and support. As Gill Phillips wrote in her recent blog ‘Changing the world of dementia – one tweet at a time’ the #dementiachallengers, as they call themselves, are like a “large extended family... following each other’s ups and downs with real care and compassion”. Back at the beginning of the year, I never would have anticipated what a strong and passionate twitter community there is around dementia, or how much I would learn from the people who make it.
As a real person, I can chat with one #dementiachallenger or a small group. I can make suggestions. They can ask me questions. And their questions make me think and give me ideas about how DH can get better and better at digital engagement.
Some managers feel uneasy about the idea of their staff being on twitter as themselves, writing tweets on the hoof that haven’t been cleared by several people. It’s good to work for people at DH who trust staff not to be stupid and who realise the enormous benefits to be had from being a real person. Being me on twitter has allowed me to engage with people that I probably wouldn’t have connected with in any other way.
Comment by Gill Phillips posted on
Well done Anna - and thank you for writing this. This is a lovely blog but also carries some very important messages.
Addressing the Dementia Challenge (and wider "care crisis") is all about connecting up real people who care and opening up conversations about the things that really matter. This is my whole 'Whose Shoes?' concept so it is exciting to see it come alive in so many ways. We are all people -different stages of our lives, different skills and abilities, different roles, different issues. By connecting in this way, silos become less rigid, barriers are broken down. By giving everyone a voice and engaging people, there is far more understanding and empathy and a real will to work together for creative solutions rather than maintain a hierarchical or systemic "us and them".
I have seen this happen over and over again in 'Whose Shoes?' workshops. Obviously the MOST important perspective is that of the person in the centre receiving support. But sometimes equally valuable and constructive breakthroughs can happen when people realise that managers, leaders and front-line staff have a job to do and that, as a human being, this might involve conflicts. If you'd like to see a video showing how this works, please Google "Whose Shoes? - Force 4 Change".
Keep up the good work, Anna, and whatever you do, don't stop being a "real person" 🙂
Comment by Andy Bradley posted on
Thank you Anna - so helpful that you are focused and engaged; your deep care comes through. It is always a lovely moment to meet people 'face to face' when relationships have been built up over time, so hope to meet you sometime. I am so inspired by the contribution Gill makes and am humbled to be seen as one of the 'dementia challengers' - there is so much to do but it helps to keep me going to know that great people are rising to the challenges
Comment by Anthony Hill posted on
Loved the article and great to see you are flying the flag for social media and most importantly elbow room for creativity! Keep up the good work!
Comment by Clenton Farquharson posted on
Great article real people spreading ideas and thoughts.
Comment by Jamie Baker posted on
A fantastic post. Great to see government getting good at social media and employing new ways of thinking to change culture and perceptions. Not just around technology, but for better social care, empathy and understanding.
Comment by Collette Petale posted on
The article on Delphi 'to tweet or not to tweet' guided me to your blog.
It really resonated with me and made me think about twitter in a different light! I will certainly be reading more tweets and you never know I might even tweet myself one day!