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  • February/2011

Does Social Media Addiction Really Exist?

by Jared Newnam
February 4, 2011

The term “social media addiction” is frequently seen in headlines and tossed around by television pundits. But society should not be so quick to attach the term “addiction” to social media activities, experts say.

“Addiction is a word that should not be used lightly to describe a set of behaviors,” says Mark Fabbri, director of the Psychology degree program for South University. “Addiction is related to a compulsion to consume something or engage in a set of behaviors to the point that it significantly interferes with a person’s life.” 

The dictionary defines addiction as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, such as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”

Fabbri points out that common, identified addictions include sex, gambling, various substances, and even the internet. 

“Any action can become addictive if it has a negative significant impact on a person’s life, but I would caution using the term addiction outside its intended definition,” he adds.

Social Media Addiction?

Adam Singer, the analytics advocate for Google, wrote a blog post for his media blog, The Future Buzz, titled Why ‘Social Media Addiction’ Makes Absolutely Zero Sense. He says individuals who abuse something, like social media, to the extent that it causes problems in their lives probably have deeper issues.

“I think social media addiction is something being played up in the media because it is a hot topic right now,” Singer says. “A lot of people are leveraging that for story ideas, or to trump up the value of something whether that’s products that stop access to social sites at work or psychologists trying to sell different services. There are motivators to playing it up.”

Neil Vidyarthi is managing editor of Social Times, a blog which covers the stories of the people in the business of social media. He says he personally believes social media can be addictive, using Facebook as an example.

“There’s a voyeuristic tendency none of us realized would be so high,” he says. “That’s why there are 500 million users spying on one another. We’re all interested in what others are doing. Facebook does something you could never really do before. Now you have this real-life, breathing example right in front of you and it’s so fascinating to people and they can get addicted.”

But Fabbri cautions that there is a big difference between addiction and overuse of social media.

“An addiction will cause the individual to lose out on other things on life,” he adds. “For example, spending so much time on social networks at work causes the individual to lose their job. A person can spend too much time in social networks but still are able to function adequately in life. Like any activity there is a need to find balance in what we do.”

An article in Psychology Today called Social Media Addiction: Engage Brain Before Believing echoes Fabbri’s assertions, saying “it concerns me that, as a society, we are very cavalier tossing around the concept of ‘addiction.’ Addiction is a serious psychological diagnosis based on specific and seriously life-impairing criteria.”

Fighting Social Media Addiction

To combat overuse and prevent any type of addiction, real or perceived, Vidyarthi recommends keeping the computer in a common area of the house, especially for families with children.

“It’s a huge challenge,” he says. “I do think you can stay on Facebook for four or five hours and that can be dangerous. People should limit themselves to knowing they can only have one or two hours per day.”

Studies on social media as an addiction are scarce and inconclusive. Vidyarthi believes that eventually there will be more data on the topic and until then, it affects how much his site covers the topic.

“There isn’t enough conclusive evidence or studies that have been done about it yet,” he adds. “But they will certainly come out.”

Communication with vs. Addiction to Social Media

Meanwhile, as the popularity and usage of social media increases, it changes the way we communicate with one another.

“Social networking has become not only a vehicle to communicate but a reason to communicate and share personal thoughts and ideas,” Fabbri says.

In some cases, he continues, it is replacing other forms of communication, such as face-to-face interactions.

“Again, social interaction through social media isn’t a bad thing,” he adds. “From a personal perspective I have enjoyed posting blogs; it has given me an avenue of expressing an opinion where I hadn’t the opportunity in the past. Utilizing social media to engage in social interactions is just another alternative. The key is to be able to balance the use of this exciting form of interaction with all the other aspects of our lives.”

Or as Singer points out, it may be that social media channels are becoming the predominant form of communication, especially amongst younger generations.

“When the phone was the predominant form of communication, did we say that teens had phone addiction? Probably not,” he says. “This is just the normal mode of communication for them.”

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Healthcare Professionals and Social Networking

by Jared Newnam
February 4, 2011

Social media sites can be a great way for healthcare professionals to network with colleagues and share health information. However, they should be aware of the potential risks of using social media, and especially use caution when connecting with patients online.

Healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and physical therapists, have plenty of options when it comes to establishing an online presence. Like all of us, they can start a blog or join networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace. There are also online communities exclusively for healthcare practitioners.

Although it has taken them time to catch up, healthcare professionals have entered Health 2.0  and are now turning to ways they can personalize health care, collaborate, and promote health education.

The Dangers of Social Media Networking

Before jumping on the bandwagon, healthcare professionals are advised to be mindful of the possible ramifications of posting health information on social media sites.

“Numerous legal issues can arise when healthcare providers use social media. These include issues related to patient privacy, fraud and abuse, tax-exempt status, and physician licensing,” says Ike Willett, an attorney who works as an associate in the health care and life sciences group of the law offices of Baker & Daniels LLP.

Numerous legal issues can arise when healthcare providers use social media.

According to Willett, friending patients on social media sites may pose risks under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and state privacy laws. The fact that an individual is a patient of a healthcare provider falls within the types of health information that these laws are designed to protect.

“The simple act of accepting a friend request likely would not constitute an adequate consent to the disclosure of patient information under HIPAA and other state privacy laws,” he adds. “HIPAA, for instance, specifies information that consent to disclosure of health information needs to contain.”

As a rule, healthcare providers should not use social media to share any health information that could be linked to an individual patient, such as names, pictures, and physical descriptions, without the patient’s consent.

Social Use by Healthcare Professionals

As social media grows, so does its use by healthcare professionals. In 2009, Medimix International surveyed 510 physicians in the United States, Europe, Brazil, and Mexico about their social media use. More than 66% of the interviewed physicians said they either don’t know about or don’t use the general social networking websites. For the 34% of those who do use them, Facebook leads the pack with 30% of physicians being members of the site. MySpace and Twitter came second and well behind Facebook, with only 4% of physicians reporting that they use them.

Meanwhile, a 2009 study by marketing communications firm Nicholson Kovac, Inc. examined media usage by nurses, and 77% of the 292 nurses surveyed have visited Facebook and a quarter have visited LinkedIn. Only 11% of the nurses report using Twitter.

Carmen Carpenter, chair of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at South University, says blog and social media postings can pose many risks for healthcare providers.

“Even things that seem like common-sense practices can be potentially risky,” she says. “What if I say as a physician or nurse to ‘take an aspirin’ on a website and someone does and has a negative reaction to it? It could be a potential liability.”

Carpenter tells healthcare professionals to proceed with caution and include a disclaimer on blogs and web pages where they provide health information. “You should tell people to consult with their physician and that your recommendations are not substitutes for actual medical help,” she states.

Healthcare organizations entering the social network need to make sure they have social media policies that specify what uses by their employees are permitted and prohibited.

“Employees should be careful because their organization could be tied to what they say on social media,” Willett says.

Also, healthcare providers who want to establish a Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, or other account need to think about whether they want to use social media exclusively to push content out to the public or to provide an interactive forum where patients can share comments and experiences, Willet says.

“Interactive social media sites are usually more compelling to users, but healthcare providers who choose this route need to have a plan for addressing negative comments,” he says.

In order to draw clear lines drawn between interactions as a healthcare provider and those as a friend, some advise keeping separate personal and professional social networking accounts. When carefully handled, social media can help strengthen the relationship between the patient and their healthcare provider.  

“Using social media to share articles on healthcare topics, podcasts conducted by medical staff members, videos providing information on particular healthcare service lines, and patient success stories with the public can be an effective way to present a personally relatable view of a healthcare organization,” Willett says.

What Healthcare Professionals Should Know

Attorney Ike Willett offers details on the legal issues that can arise when healthcare providers use social media:

  • Patient Privacy – HIPAA and state privacy laws limit healthcare providers’ ability to interact with patients through social media. HIPAA and state privacy laws prohibit healthcare providers from disclosing patient information without proper patient authorization. Information protected by HIPAA includes anything that can be used to identify a patient, including pictures. A healthcare provider discloses patient information through social media without patient authorization in violation of HIPAA and/or state privacy laws can be subject in fines and other penalties.
  • Fraud and Abuse – Federal and state laws aimed at preventing fraud and abuse in health care prohibit healthcare providers from giving third parties anything of value as an inducement for the third party to generate referrals to the healthcare provider for services which may be reimbursable by Medicare or Medicaid. Paying third parties to use social media to talk up a healthcare provider’s services may present risks under laws aimed at preventing fraud and abuse, such as the federal Medicare and the Medicaid Patient Protection Act of 1987 (“Antikickback Statute”).
  • Tax-Exempt Status – Healthcare providers that are exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are prohibited from intervening in political campaigns and from seeking to influence legislation as a substantial part of their activities. This restriction may extend to advertising on or sponsoring social media sites that support a political candidate or particular pieces of legislation.
  • Physician Licensing – Healthcare professionals need to be careful about providing medical advice to patients using social media. If a patient receiving the medical advice from a doctor through social media is located in a state in which the doctor is not licensed, the doctor giving the advice risks liability under state licensing laws.
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Businesses’ Social Media Strategies Keep Consumers Connected

by Jared Newnam
February 4, 2011

Social media sites are no longer just a place to catch up with friends, unless some people regard their favorite restaurants and stores as friends.

Many businesses are creating social media strategies as ways to form a new kind of connection with consumers.

Monique Yeager, director of public relations at Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q  says the company uses a number of different social media sites as a way to connect with customers.

“Our main priority is to build relationships with consumers,” Yeager says. “Traditional media doesn’t build relationships with consumers. People trust other people more than advertising and what they hear on television. That’s the way of the world now.”

Yeager and Emre Ruhi, owner of custom T-shirt online retailer Teesey Tees, agree that businesses not using social media are at a disadvantage. “Social media is at a point where it is no longer an option. If you want to succeed and come across as an engaged and active business, you need to be participating in some form of social media,” Ruhi says.

Dan Novak, an assistant professor of Leadership at South University Online, says Facebook is successful because people are able to log in to one place and get updates on many different things and people.

Creating a Buzz with Social Media Sites

For some businesses, such as trendy restaurants and new stores, social media use is all about creating a buzz. They go down all avenues to try to get new customers in the door, because often businesses will only be popular for a short time before they fade into the background.

If you want to succeed and come across as an engaged and active business, you need to be participating in some form of social media.

Novak says social media adds long-term value to businesses that already have a loyal following, and who are focusing their marketing efforts on their target market.

Having a social media strategy is important for a company like Teesey Tees because their current and future customer base is tech-savvy and spends a lot of time on social networking sites.

“If we're not there, they won't know about us and our attempts at establishing a successful brand will simply fail,” Ruhi says.

Customers often comment on Sonny’s Facebook page. When the company made a switch from serving sliced beef to a new sliced brisket, customers went to Sonny’s Facebook page to express their disapproval.

Yeager says customers are also quick to defend the restaurant chain when people write negative comments on the company’s Facebook wall, adding that they don’t censor social media posts by customers unless they are profane or offensive.

Boost Business with Social Media

Both Yeager and Ruhi say their social media strategies have indirectly brought more business to their companies.

“I think it definitely brought us repeat business,” Yeager says.

Ruhi says Teesey Tee’s uses social media to demonstrate the kind of company they are to customers, instead of just promoting their own products.

“Teesey tries to reflect its sense of humor and energy in its social media presence, and in this way become a brand that people want to buy from,” Ruhi says. “If you're a fan of a company that posts things relevant to the field it's in, while remaining interesting, you'll like the company itself. You'll remember it in the future when you want a T-shirt, or maybe recommend it to a buddy who tells you they're looking for a cool shirt.”

Novak adds that businesses should remember they do not own their reputation. Therefore they need to use social media to build a reputation that is strong enough to overcome any attacks or business hardships.

Making a Social Media Strategy Personal

Novak says there is going to be a trend in the future towards businesses using personalization to market to consumers. He says customers are overloaded with information, much of which does not add value to them.

“Businesses have to target what the people want,” Novak says. “Businesses need to figure out what types of social media their clients use, not just a strategy for each medium.”

He says personalization will allow businesses to focus more on the information they’re giving consumers and less on how to provide the information through every social media channel.

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