Last March a friend and former graduate student I supervised was visiting me from out of town. He was telling me about a call he got that went something like this: “Hi Bob, great website! Would you like to do a workshop on creating a online presence for our chapter of NASW? You won’t be paid for this, but you’ll get exposure, what do you think?”
This sort of exchange contains every element you need to have to teach a lesson on how not to do things as a Web 2.0 therapist. Let’s break this down:
1. What you are doing is so valuable we’d rather not pay you for it. Anything that you would go to a workshop to learn is something you should be willing to pay for. Even if it was only $20, a small amount or honorarium is something you should offer when you recruit someone to help you. Offering a rationalization is not the same thing; if my former student needed exposure the last place to look for it would be from this cheapo crowd! I know we have had a longstanding tradition in the psychotherapy disciplines to expect that we will present papers or talks at big yearly conferences for free, and that kind of thing seems a little different in my mind, because they are national conferences or Symposia and have many presenters. But to recruit someone specific for a specific workshop and not pay them any honorarium seems both cheap and arrogant to me.
2. Online Presence=Having a web site. Wrong! A website is just one small (important, but small) part of having an online presence. Having a website is something you should have prior to trying to launch your online presence. Now opinions vary on how to get one. I have some colleagues who know this space who believe that Therapists need to hire someone to build a website for them, and I can see the merit of this. My own opinion is that WordPress and our current technology have made it possible to have a very professional website for a fraction of that price if you are willing to spend some time and a little extra money to get a framework like Genesis. That is the one I use, and this site is one that I was able to design and launch pretty quickly. I have an older site that is still out there, but doesn’t get anywhere near as many hits now. That being said, I do think that whether you build one or have a professional do that, you definitely ought to have a professional critique it. My colleague Juliet Austin has a expertise doing this, and having been in the market for a while, she has a great eye for dos and don’ts.
But having a website is not an online presence in 2011, it is a colorful classified ad. Yes it is necessary now that potential patients want to see and meet you before they see and meet you, but now that there are thousands of Therapists with websites it will not distinguish you much more than a Psychology Today profile. Having an online presence requires you have a vibrant combination of interactive dialogue, recommendations that establish your “brand” as a therapist, multiple forms of media to see, hear and read you, and some amount of change over time.
I’m not trying to discourage any of you from getting started online with a website, I just want to make sure you see it is only one component of having an successful online presence.
3. Professional Organizations need to become more professional when it comes to business and social media. Asking your constituents to take the lead without compensating them is just lame. But even more concerning are the attitudes I see many organization taking towards social media. One example recently was a workshop NASW was promoting on HIPAA and Social Media. The flyer began with the bold red words “Protect Yourself!” The workshop like many others I have seen approaches the Internet and Web 2.0 from the point of view of fear-mongering, if the advertisement is accurate. Be scared of social media. Don’t learn how to use it for marketing your business, let alone your clinical work. This is not the message we need from our leadership. Include a component on social media in a general ethics course, sure. But please stop fostering the association of technology with ethical risk, social media with liability.
Our professional organizations also need to put the same thought and care in finding expertise when it comes to Web 2.0 as they would other workshop topics. Would we ever email a colleague and say, “Hey, want to do a workshop for NASW on EMDR?” based on information as limited as a website? I doubt it. As leaders of our profession, our professional organizations need to treat the topic of social media and health care with the same care as other topics. Their endorsement gives an imprimatur. If they say, the only thing you need to know about social media is to avoid it or you’ll be sued, we learn nothing but fear. If they say, social media requires no expertise or experience, we underestimate the skills we all need to learn to use it.
Bob is a great guy and an excellent clinician, but his having a website doesn’t make one an expert. Being on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t make one an expert. Having 5-15 years of experience working in the space of Web 2.0 like Juliet, Susan Giurleo, or myself does. These are peer-vetted experts, experts vetted by peers in both the clinical and Internet fields. I used to be hesitant to say this, because even though I teach people how to self-promote as part of their business I still feel uncomfortable with it myself. But I feel it is important to make a distinction between people who have spent years and thousands of dollars learning how to integrate clinical practice and Web 2.0, and your colleague who has a nice website.
Look, we need to start taking social media seriously, 97% of our patients and other human beings use it. I applaud our professional organizations for trying to offer something. But the above approach reminds me of having your grandson hook up your DVD player when he comes home from college. It is shortsighted and underestimates the complexity of the matters at hand. At some point Therapists need to strike a balance between a healthy respect for the growing importance of social media and avoidant fear. And at some point we’re going to need to invest time, money, and serious thought into how, not if, we use it in our practice.