Tips for Social Media Etiquette in Social Work Practice
Denise Johnson, LCSW-C,
Senior Practice Associate, Clinical Social Work
Social media continues to be an integral part of our lives and has become a valuable tool to connect with others. Mental health providers such as clinical social workers may also use social media to share resources, promote their place of business, and connect with other professionals. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) acknowledges the impact of social media on the profession, as it urges clinical social workers to understand and employ proper etiquette to ensure effective and professional communication. Here are some tips on how clinical social workers can use social media responsibly and professionally.
NASW has established practice and ethical standards that guide social workers in their professional conduct. These principles should also be implemented when using social media. When using the internet for communication with the public, clinical social workers should strive to promote and reflect the profession's values, ethics, and mission. To ensure this happens, they should refer to the NASW Code of Ethics for guidance, which outlines the ethical principles social workers should adhere to, such as competence, privacy and confidentiality, respect, honesty, misrepresentation, solicitations, private conduct, and credit acknowledgment. In collaboration with the National Association of Social Work Boards, Council on Social Work Education, and Clinical Social Work Association, NASW also created Standards for Using Technology in Social Work Practice. Both resources provide guidelines to ensure that social workers engage on social media ethically and responsibly.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Upholding the ethical principles of confidentiality and privacy when dealing with clients is paramount. It is imperative to establish protocols to protect clients and avoid any actions that could compromise clients' confidentiality. These actions include refraining from sharing any information about clients on social media platforms that could be traced back to them. Thus, clinical social workers must exercise caution and discretion and consider the risks when using social media and ensure that their actions align with the ethical standards of our profession. Failure to do so could lead to negative consequences for the client and the practitioner. Clinical social workers may face disciplinary action from their licensing board and civil action from the client. Furthermore, the client may lose trust in the practitioner and the profession.NASW, ASWB, CSWE, CSWA Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice advises social workers who utilize social media to develop and share a social media policy with clients.
Establishing and maintaining professional boundaries when interacting with clients via social media is essential. The same ethical principles and standards that guide in-person interactions should also apply to digital communication. Thus, clinical social workers must ensure that their online postings remain respectful, appropriate, and within the scope of their professional practice. They should also consider the risk of engaging in personal communication or developing overly friendly relationships with clients online, as this could lead to boundary violations and potentially harm the client. In addition, clinical social workers need to be mindful of the potential for boundary confusion and inappropriate dual relationships when they are members of online groups. It is especially important to be aware of the risk of harm to the client if the social worker's online social relationship can lead to a conflict of interest or compromise the professional-client relationship.
In addition to the professional standards set by the association, clinical social workers should also consider their own biases when engaging in certain activities online. While there is an expectation to maintain professional boundaries and ethical standards, clinical social workers may find themselves in situations where they feel the need to express personal opinions. However, they may want to exercise caution in doing so as this could have negative consequences on their professional practice. Clinical social workers should also refrain from sharing personal opinions, views, or posts that could be biased and avoid using offensive or discriminatory language to prevent possible issues or misunderstandings. Self-disclosure of this nature may alienate potential clients and negatively affect the therapeutic relationships of existing clients. NASW Code of Ethics outlines social workers' ethical responsibilities concerning discrimination based on various characteristics. Doing so seeks to ensure that all individuals' rights are respected and protected, regardless of their background.
Seek Professional Support
There also may be a desire to use social media as an outlet to deal with challenging clinical situations. In these instances, clinical social workers should utilize professional resources such as supervision or peer consultation instead of posting on public platforms to avoid misinterpretation or other issues. Supervision and consultation equip clinical social workers with an outside perspective to enable them to reflect more clearly on their practice. Most importantly, it can provide a space for social workers to talk about their experiences, build self-awareness, and gain feedback on how to prepare for and navigate challenging situations they may encounter on social media. Professional platforms can be another valuable resource. NASW members can use the MyNASW community page to exchange knowledge and find peer support.
Develop a Social Media Policy
Lastly, NASW, ASWB, CSWE, CSWA Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice advises social workers, who utilize social media to develop and share a social media policy with clients. This policy should cover the professional use of social networking sites, emails, text messaging, electronic search engines, smartphone applications, blogs, business review sites, and other forms of electronic communication. A well-crafted policy can protect private information and establish professional boundaries between the client and the clinical social worker. This policy should be discussed with the client during the initial interview and updated as necessary. NASW has developed a Sample Social Media Policy for Clinical Social Workers in Private Practice as a template to assist practitioners that is available on the association’s website.
Social media can offer many benefits for clinical social workers if used responsibly. While it allows for increased opportunities to connect with colleagues and exchange resources, it is also important to remember that a broad audience may view posts and interactions. Thus, clinical social workers should be aware of the power of their words, both on and offline. By respecting the rules of social media etiquette, clinical social workers can ensure that they are engaging in respectful and professional interactions that promote their own and others' well-being. They should also be mindful that everyone is a potential client while engaging on social media to ensure they are projecting a professional image that reflects the values and ethics of the social work profession.
 Ventola, C. L. (2014, July). Social Media and health care professionals: Benefits, risks, and best practices. P & T: a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management.
 National Association of Social Workers, Association of Social Work Boards, Council on Social Work Education, &
Clinical Social Work Association. (n.d.). NASW, ASWB, CSWE, CSWA
Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice. NASW, National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/NASW-Practice-Standards-Guidelines/Standards-for-Technology-in-Social-Work-Practice.
NASW Code of Ethics: Ethical Standards. NASW, National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). Retrieved March
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