When the new H1N1 flu virus appeared in the U.S. earlier this year, social networking and social media played a significant role in the early distribution of information about its transmission, known cases and prevention strategies.
By Friday, April 24, it was apparent from news reports, blog posts and Twitter updates that the number of cases was growing. The concern of CDC officials was evident. As a paramedic, I began looking on Saturday morning for information targeted to EMS, but all the early information was for hospitals and public health. It was not until Monday that I began to get EMS-specific information from my state office and organizations like NAEMT and NAEMSE. Much to my disappointment, most of that information was just redistribution of the CDC's earlier releases. It took a while longer for EMS-specific guidelines and recommendations to come out. On Sunday, April 26, the EMS Chiefs of Canada had a conference call and released "best practice" recommendations that I learned of on Tuesday, April 28. That same day, four days after the initial news broke, I was also alerted to flu guidelines and resources from the National EMS Management Association.
For me, the most rapid and reliable information about H1N1 came from the CDC's Twitter accounts (@CDCFlu and @CDCemergency). With short headlines and links to more details, I found the information I needed to put the developing situation into context. Had H1N1 been a faster-spreading pandemic with more lethal consequences (and it may still develop into a significant public health emergency), I fear our regional, state and national EMS organizations, governmental and nongovernmental, would not have been prepared to rapidly communicate best practices and just-in-time knowledge through social networks with social media tools.
This article offers an introduction to social networking and social media, how EMS can use them, an introduction to social networking tools, suggestions on best practices and five immediate social networking actions you should take.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND SOCIAL NETWORKING
The terms social media and social networking are often used interchangeably. To me, social media is content creation and distribution, while social networking is the effort to build and maintain relationships with others exposed to your content.
Many EMS providers already use social media tools like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube for creating, posting, sharing and accessing personal images, videos, music, audio recordings, e-mail and other content. The ability to create, post and share content is a foundational component of many social networking sites. The various types of social media can bring different benefits to EMS organizations.
Videos captured with small handheld camcorders, digital cameras or smartphones and posted to YouTube are social media. They represent content, created, captured and posted with minimal planning and work. YouTube also has components of social networking: A user can create a YouTube channel, invite and accept subscribers to it, and interact with viewers and subscribers who leave text and video comments. For example, in July 2008 I filmed a Combitube insertion and posted the video to YouTube. That video has since been viewed more than 14,000 times. Since posting the content I have received and responded to comments from video viewers. The effort of those interactions is social networking.
EMS agencies can use video to:
- Demonstrate things like airway management skills for annual refresher training;
- Showcase new ambulance features for general public viewing on organization blog;
- Interview successfully treated patients like cardiac arrest survivors for recognition events and public viewing.