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A 5-step plan for expanding your network with Facebook

Even if you are one of the millions of people who use Facebook to connect to others, you may not realize how friending colleagues on Facebook can expand your professional network. There are nurses, just a click away, who can answer your questions and mentor you from afar. In my transition from staff nurse to doctorally prepared educator, I have used Facebook to maintain and build my own professional network by friending nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Association and the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nursing. I see how Facebook friending keeps me, my staff nurse colleagues, and my medical/surgical students current and connected. Yet, the articles I read in the nursing literature focus more on the inappropriate usage of Facebook. Rather than scaring nurses off Facebook, this article highlights the professional advantages of liking a variety of colleagues.

After sharing a staff nurse’s friending experiences, I’ll give you a 5-step action plan for using Facebook to reach out to colleagues.

Meet Lisa

Lisa is an RN who was promoted to unit manager. After graduating with her BSN 5 years ago, she worked as a staff nurse on a busy medical-surgical unit in a suburban hospital. Now she’s considering returning to school to pursue a master’s degree in nursing education. When Lisa asks colleagues and her director for guidance on returning to graduate school, she comes up empty-handed. The next five stories show how Lisa used Facebook to reach out to colleagues for advice, inspiration, and support.

Friend a student
Lisa checks Facebook on her smartphone after leaving work one day and discovers that Karen, a coworker, is out celebrating a friend’s acceptance into a local MSN program. To learn more about this graduate program, Lisa searches for Karen’s friend, Joanne, on Facebook and sends her a friend request detailing how she knows Karen and why she’s interested in connecting. Within minutes Joanne accepts the request and messages Lisa saying she’d be happy to meet and answer questions.

Friend a role model
Lisa still catches herself viewing situations as a staff nurse, rather than as a manager. To network with other managers, Lisa attends a statewide leadership conference and hears a presentation by Daniel, whose story of transition into leadership mirrors her own. Inspired, Lisa approaches him after his talk. The line of those waiting to speak with him is so long, she decides not to wait. Instead, she finds Daniel on Facebook and sends him a friend request with a message saying how much his presentation meant to her and explains why she’d like to connect. He accepts her friend request and suggests Lisa send him questions whenever she feels the need.

Friend a nursing association member
Lisa knows participating in professional organizations is a great way to network. Yet, her work schedule makes it impossible for her to attend meetings of her state’s nurses association. When Lisa reads a free nursing newsletter sent to all nurses in her state, she discovers that Megan, her friend from nursing school, holds a leadership position in the local group. Lisa finds Megan on Facebook and sends her a friend request. She tells Megan that she’d like to reconnect and find out how she can get more involved with the group. Megan accepts the friend request and asks Lisa to join the group in a fun run supporting heart disease research.

Friend a nurse faculty member
Lisa has thought about teaching in a school of nursing after completing her MSN. Through Facebook, she stays connected with Stephanie, a former coworker who relocated and is teaching in an online BSN program. Stephanie posts stories and links on her activity feed that give Lisa a glimpse into faculty life. Lisa wants to know more and one night she sees that Stephanie is active on her chat feed. Lisa instant messages Stephanie to ask if they can speak about what it’s like to teach in an online program. A few minutes later they engage in a Facebook chat that helps Lisa formulate interview questions for on-line teaching positions. Several days later, Lisa sends Stephanie an instant message on Facebook to thank her.

Friend a nurse in another specialty
Lisa misses seeing Sarah, an infusion nurse who recently moved away after her husband was relocated. Beyond staying in touch, their connection on Facebook has been helpful for Lisa whenever issues related to intravenous therapy come up at work. Just the other day, at a hospital leadership meeting a physician asked Lisa a detailed question about new guidelines for the care of peripherally inserted central catheter sites. Unable to give him an answer, Lisa instant messages Sarah on Facebook. Sarah responds by instant message with an explanation and Lisa follows up with the physician at the next meeting, giving Lisa credit for her input.

5 steps to friend colleagues action plan

Step 1: Identify a professional dream that seems out of reach. Lisa had a professional dream—returning to graduate school—and no one to turn to for advice. When you find yourself in a similar situation, consider Facebook as a way to connect with colleagues who can help.

Step 2: List the names of nurses or types of nurses to help you. Lisa reached out and friended five nurse colleagues: a graduate student, a nurse leader, a nursing association member, a teacher, and a nurse in another specialty. When you list the names or types of nurses who can help you, start with colleagues you know. Your circle will grow as virtual introductions are made between existing Facebook friends and new friends.

Step 3: Get on Facebook to find potential colleagues. Lisa was already on Facebook so she re-examined her existing network with her professional dream in mind and reached out to colleagues who could help. When you decide to give Facebook a try, sign-up and create a free profile at facebook.com or download the application on your mobile device.

Step 4: Approach colleagues on Facebook with courtesy. Lisa approaches colleagues on Facebook much the way she would approach colleagues face-to-face. When you send potential colleagues a friend request, start out by telling them how you know them and if possible include an appreciation like Lisa did with Daniel, the nurse leader.

Step 5: Be responsive. Lisa circled back to Stephanie and let her know how helpful her advice was. When you benefit from a friend’s input, let him or her know by sending an instant message on Facebook to express gratitude and inspire additional conversations.

Connecting for success

As Lisa’s stories illustrate, Facebook allows you to create, maintain, and nurture professional connections with nurses you admire; keep track of what’s happening in the profession; and develop a network of colleagues to tap for specialized knowledge. Even if you are shy about approaching others for help face-to-face or you live in an area where resources are few, Facebook can make reaching out and expanding your circle of colleagues easier. If used thoughtfully and with purpose, Facebook helps you get the advice you need, make informed decisions about your career, and advance professionally.

In the end, it really is who you know. If you’re willing to take a chance and try it, Facebook can open you to a world of nursing colleagues waiting and willing to help you make your professional dreams come true!

Kim Belcik is an assistant professor in the St. David’s School of Nursing at Texas State University in Round Rock, Texas.

Selected references

American Nurses Association Factsheet: Navigating the World of Social Media. nursingworld.org/FunctionalMenuCategories/AboutANA/Social-Media/Social-Networking-Principles-Toolkit/Fact-Sheet-Navigating-the-World-of-Social-Media.pdf. Accessed November 2, 2014.

Brous E. How to avoid the pitfalls of social media. Am Nurse Today. 2013;8(5). myamericannurse.com/article.aspx?id=10268&fid=10226. Accessed November 2, 2014.

National Council of State Boards of Nursing. A nurse’s guide to the use of social media. 2011.

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