Social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter can be excellent ways for Breastfeeding Counselors to promote their Community Chapters while furthering the Breastfeeding USA mission. Community Chapters can use social media to share evidence-based breastfeeding information and provide an online support group for the participants, potentially reaching breastfeeding mothers who cannot attend face-to-face Chapter meetings. Responsible use of social media and effective moderation of online discussion groups can help BCs avoid some of the potential downsides of these online interactions.
Establishing Social Media Accounts
Breastfeeding Counselors are encouraged to establish Community Chapter social media and group discussion accounts using service providers and platforms on which they are comfortable. Popular service providers include Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, as well as LinkedIn, MySpace, and Plaxo. Many of these require an individual email address under which to establish an account. Whenever possible, Breastfeeding Counselors are encouraged to use a separate BC or Chapter email when establishing accounts instead of using personal email addresses; this protects their privacy and differentiates the account from any personal accounts they may have. (Please see this section of the BC Guide about creating a Breastfeeding USA email account.) However, some service providers, including Facebook, require that an aged (existing) account be used to establish business pages or groups. When establishing an account dedicated to your Community Chapter promotion and discussion, it should clearly identify the Chapter; many Chapters use the naming convention "Breastfeeding USA [ChapterName] Chapter." If possible, the account should be linked to the Breastfeeding USA website (www.breastfeedingusa.org) to reinforce the connection between the local Chapter and the national organization and to provide participants with easy access to Breastfeeding USA information on the website.
Setting appropriate security levels on accounts – especially for group discussion accounts – can help protect the privacy of participants and also limit spam, inappropriate messages, and unwanted visitors. In general, Breastfeeding Counselors should consider restricting group membership by invitation only or requiring moderator approval prior to a new member joining the group. Access to discussion content (messages, files, photos, etc.) should be limited to group members only. More information about managing social media account membership is included in the section on Moderating Discussion Forums.
Facebook Pages and Groups
Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms – it offers two different options for Community Chapters: business pages and groups. Breastfeeding Counselors may choose either format for their Chapter, recognizing that there are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Facebook business pages are the digital equivalent of an old-fashioned community bulletin board, where a Breastfeeding Counselor can post a message or announcement and a fan can read and respond to the message at will. Breastfeeding Counselors can utilize a Facebook business page in a few different ways depending on the goals and situations of the Chapter:
- Announcement only. The wall is closed to posting and comments by anyone except the page owner or moderator. This format is great for a Community Chapter that is building a following and wants a Facebook presence without the added chore of moderating wall postings.
- Primarily announcement and sharing informational articles and statuses. The wall is closed to posting by anyone except the page owner or moderator, but allows comments on statuses and minimal interactions with the wall. This format is great for a Community Chapter that is building a following and wants a Facebook presence without much emphasis on moderating wall postings.
- Announcements, sharing, and discussion hub. The wall is open to posting by anyone that has “liked” the Community Chapter page. This format provides greater opportunities for information sharing and mother-to-mother support, but requires dedicated moderation, screening for spam, answering help requests, and can attract unwanted visitors. The time commitment may be more than a few hours a week for Chapters with a large Facebook contingent.
Facebook groups are more like message boards (e.g., Yahoo or Google Groups or a site like proboard.com) with one major difference: posted items (threads) in a Facebook group do not archive in a linear thread conversation with individual emails. In a Facebook group, each thread is an individual wall post with all follow-up comments attached to the initial post as one item, which has the benefit of keeping an individual thread on topic. However, this format can make it difficult to search the group archive for previous postings or messages, and posted questions may get “lost” on quick-moving discussions. A Breastfeeding Counselor may use the Facebook group as a way to foster community – the added visual appeal of members’ Facebook pictures is a positive aspect of Facebook groups and an advantage over other message board services. Breastfeeding Counselors and members can post questions, encouragements, or announcements, and they all can read, respond, “like” comments, and share experiences and appropriate evidence-based support and information. Breastfeeding Counselors can utilize a Facebook Group in place of a more traditional message board. A Facebook group can be used in conjunction with a Community Chapter Facebook business page or in addition to or in place of an email based listserv, like Yahoo Groups.
Facebook pages and groups can be a lot of fun and provide a unique way to personalize your Community Chapter and reach mothers. For more information or help setting up a Community Chapter Facebook page or group, please send an email to SocialNetworking@BreastfeedingUSA.org.
Representing Breastfeeding USA
The Code of Ethics requires each Breastfeeding Counselor to “act in a manner that safeguards the interests of each mother, justifies public trust in her competence, and enhances the reputation of the Breastfeeding USA Counselor program.” Therefore, BCs need to be careful how they represent Breastfeeding USA in social-media exchanges. While social-media accounts and discussion forums are a great resource for participants to share breastfeeding information – including both research-based studies and anecdotal, personal experiences – Breastfeeding Counselors may choose to limit the amount of personal information they share online when representing Breastfeeding USA. While individual participants on these forums may be encouraged to express a variety of viewpoints, BCs are expected to share resources from the organization and support Breastfeeding USA position statements. Breastfeeding Counselors with personal questions or concerns should seek information and support from internal Breastfeeding USA resources (such as the BfUSA discussion email group, (BC_discussion@breastfeedingusa.org) and BRAID, rather than to post inquiries in more public forums (including LACTNET).