Are you a "fan" of APA? Do you "like" PsychiatryOnline? And are you "following" news about DSM-5, receiving tweets at your Twitter account?
In case you're scratching your head, this is the lingua franca of online social networking—the electronic phenomenon by which millions around the globe are connecting with each other on Web sites like Facebook and through blogs and "microblogging" tools such as Twitter.
APA is all over the growing social media phenomenon, with six separate accounts each on Facebook and Twitter, providing members and the public the opportunity to connect to APA and its resources.
"It is exciting that APA is involved in the social media world," said psychiatrist Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., chair of APA's Council on Communications. "Our members are busy, and using Facebook and Twitter is another way that they can find out the latest from APA. We are also reaching out to the general public. Social media are another way to educate people about psychiatry."
Borenstein pointed out that APA's Web sites—<www.psych.org> and <www.HealthyMinds.org>—are the Association's primary interactive electronic communications tools, the "hub," as it were. Facebook and Twitter serve as "spokes" that lead members and others interested in mental health back to the hub and to APA's products and services.
On Facebook, the hugely popular interactive Web site, APA maintains a page with more than 4,300 fans—individuals from every walk of life throughout the world who are interested in the Association and its services, products, and information. Anyone with a Facebook account (an account is free and easy to set up, requiring only a username, password, and e-mail address) can become a "fan" of APA by clicking on the "Like" tab.
That indicates you "like" APA—how simple is that?
The advantage of Facebook over a static Web site is its interactivity; APA can place updates about all manner of news and events in close to real-time, with fans being able to comment and provide feedback as well as communicate with each other. The result is a dynamic community, or "social network," that is continuously up to date with APA and its services and resources.
There are also Facebook accounts for Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives; DSM-5; PsychiatryOnline; American Psychiatric Foundation; and American Psychiatric Publishing Inc. All of these "spokes" lead back to the hub at APA's own Web sites.
APA also maintains a number of Twitter accounts. Twitter is an online "microblogging" tool with which an account holder can continuously send out short news updates of 140 characters or fewer to "followers" who have signed up to receive them. Picture something like a news ticker, only in cyberspace, with the news feeding into a follower's account (typically linked to the follower's e-mail address).
So for instance, at about noon on April 27, APA sent out the following Twitter message: "APA members who have received letters with details and claim forms pertaining to the legal settlement with UnitedHealth regarding their establishment of reasonable and customary fees can go to the AMA Web site for step-by-step assistance."
Again, establishing a Twitter account is free and easy—enter a username, password, and e-mail address—and once you have an account, you can link to APA's Twitter accounts and become a follower.
"Everyone likes to receive information in different ways, and there's a rapidly growing segment of the public that is tied into social media and likes to be informed this way," Borenstein told Psychiatric News.
But no doubt there are APA members who remember the days of typewriters and carbon paper and who may be, let's say, not on the leading edge technologically. Borenstein said they should have no cause for anxiety.
"Some of us remember life before the Internet, and over time we have become comfortable searching the Web and using e-mail," he said. "Learning how to use social networking sites is easy with some practice. And for members who are not interested in getting information through social media, they can still communicate through e-mail, our Member Update blog, and Psychiatric News. Moving more communications online in different ‘channels’ helps us engage with more members."
There are a few cautionary notes to keep in mind: though it is possible to restrict what others can see on a Facebook or Twitter account, a defining feature of an online social medium is the way it allows someone to interact with the world at large. "Be thoughtful about what you post," Borenstein advises. "As physicians, we should always think of our patients first and be sensitive to what they could see."
APA staff say social media can only help with the promotion of APA's ideals, goals, and mission as well as the sale of APA's products, such as APPI publications. Bob Pursell, associate publisher for advertising, sales and marketing with APPI, said that the publisher's two Facebook pages have a total of 1,800 fans. APPI also has a Twitter account that feeds news about new publications.
"When a new item is released, when a new issue of Psychiatric News becomes available, or when one of our authors makes news, we alert our followers with a blurb," he said.
Pursell said it is too early to say that the social media presence is translating into sales, but he noted that many APPI fans are international. "We are still in the early stages, and our following hasn't reached a critical mass yet," he said. "But there is no reason to think our audience won't continue to grow."
William Narrow, M.D., M.P.H., research director for DSM-5 and associate director of the APA Division of Research, said the DSM presence on Facebook and Twitter has also attracted international attention. The Facebook DSM page has nearly 4,000 fans, and in the week beginning April 19, it had 1,250 page visits and added 271 fans, he said.
The presence of DSM on Facebook and regular updates about the development of the manual on Twitter—as well as its own dedicated Web site—would also seem to negate charges that DSM is being developed in "secret" (Psychiatric News, August 21, 2009).
"There are so many more ways to disseminate information now for this DSM than there were for previous publications," Narrow told Psychiatric News. "In the spirit of openness and transparency, we see Facebook as one of those outlets. And if we wanted to be secretive about the development of DSM, being on Twitter would be really counterproductive."
So how can APA's social media efforts benefit the individual member?
Psychiatrist Molly McVoy, M.D., has participated in APA's "Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives" public-education campaign and said that Facebook has been a valuable tool. Last spring, during an educational campaign about mood disorders, she participated in an effort to reach out to young mothers as the "gatekeepers" to family mental health.
McVoy said she was able to connect MommyBloggers, at <www.mommybloggers.com>, a community of young mothers who write weblogs about parenting issues, to APA's Facebook page and thereby disseminate important information about mood disorders to hundreds of bloggers and countless readers worldwide.
McVoy, who is finishing a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland, said that the language of social media is increasingly the language of a new generation.
"A lot of our patients are communicating through these media," she told Psychiatric News. "If APA doesn't talk in that language, the public and our patients are going to get their information from somewhere else."
She added, "I have yet to meet an adolescent in my clinic who isn't on Facebook."
Links to all of APA's social media outlets can be accessed at <www.psych.org/MainMenu/Newsroom/Social-Media.aspx>.