Guest post – Elders in the #hcsm community
This is the third in a series of regular guest posts from the fabulous members of the #hcsm community. Interested in writing a post for #hcsm? Email me. This week, Meredith Gould discusses the idea of elders in community – and challenges elders in #hcsm specifically.
I did not initially join the healthcare social media (#hcsm) community as a social scientist. At first, I simply viewed myself as a marketing communications professional committed to enhancing health literacy. This, by the way, is my cleaned-up version of saying I’m committed to slashing ridiculously confusing medical jargon out of healthcare materials.
But old habits of education and training run deep. I’m a sociologist and within weeks of participating in #hcsm chats, I could see a social world emerging in real time. Enthralling!
Soon, I was tweeting more about the social construction of healthcare than anything else, although a content analysis of cached data would reveal my enthusiasm for proper spelling, grammar, and syntax. Within months, I realized online communities generate social structure and then develop just like communities do in real life (IRL). One significant difference: community development happens more quickly when it’s happening online via social media.
And so does the potential for community destruction from either outside or within, which is why I’m currently fixated on the role of elders. IRL elders are vested with and take on key responsibilities that are essential for community survival.
Everything I’ve observed so far persuades me this is also true for the #hcsm chat community. While it may not be immediately obvious, I believe our growth and survival will depend, to some extent, on the positive participation of community elders.
If you’re a long-time participant in #hcsm chats, I suggest that these are your three (interconnected) responsibilities:
- Holding collective memory: Elders are those around long enough to remember the beginning. They can recall – often because they’ve recorded them – the events and conversations shaping community. Effective elders reference this information about social structure to build community. Ineffective elders stifle community development by referencing this information to insist, “we’ve always done it this way” when facing change.
- Providing continuity: Because they remember the beginning, elders provide the continuity needed to continue conversations and develop new ones. In social media terms, elders curate as well as create content. Effective elders participate during hashtag chats by offering links to new information that enhances the conversations. Ineffective elders shut down conversations by insisting, “we’ve already discussed that” when facing inevitable redundancies.
- Guiding newcomers: Elders are those not only able but willing to be generous with newcomers. Elders recognize that each new generation will go through the same, or very similar, stages as the ones before it. Effective elders are welcoming, patient and good humored with new visitors. Ineffective elders quit participating, although I suppose you could argue that by removing opting out, cranky elders are, in fact, serving the greater good.
So, now let me ask you this: Are you an elder in the #hcsm community? If so, how are you helping the community survive and thrive?
Meredith Gould is a sociologist by training and activist by temperament with a wide range of editorial and marketing experience. Since 1990, she has focused on health and wellness issues, especially how health is socially-constructed. A passionate advocate for using technology to build communities, Meredith participates in healthcare social media (#hcsm), healthcare marketing (#hcmktg) and hospice/palliative medicine (#hpm) conversations on Twitter. She is the author of seven books, blogs about daily errata at More Meredith Gould and serves in an elected leadership position for the Virtual Abbey.