Feature

Social media have changed the way America communicates and APA is now deep in the conversation. With smartphone apps, blogs and pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Twitter and more, APA is reaching into the everyday lives of thousands, in America and around the world.

At this writing, APA's main Facebook page had more than 50,000 fans from at least 19 countries, including Portugal, Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico. Our main Twitter feed had 7,730 followers. Our LinkedIn discussion group included 6,278 people. And videos on APA's YouTube channel had been viewed 45,964 times.

"Social media have become a powerful tool for APA to convey the breadth and depth of psychology to the public," says Rhea K. Farberman, APA's executive director of public and member communications. "Social media are now part of how we do our work each day."

Staff across APA are using social media in creative ways. The APA Practice Organization has focused on using Twitter to engage practitioners on such key issues as reimbursement, health-care reform, Medicare, changes to the CPT codes and state and federal legislation affecting them and their patients, says Angel Brownawell, integrated media manager in the Practice Directorate.

"We also provide tip sheets, training and coaching to members and state associations to help them better realize the value of social media and help them determine if it's a good tool for them," she adds.

Many of the people following APA on social media are not psychologists or even students, just individuals who are curious about the science of behavior. "Engaging this broad cross-section of people via these platforms helps us meet our strategic plan goal to improve public understanding of the scientific basis for psychology and promote the applications of psychological science to daily living," says Farberman.

APA's Public Interest Directorate has its own blog, called Psychology Benefits Society, and several of its programs have Facebook pages. Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, executive director of PI, has a following on Twitter, too.

"Social media, linked to content on our website, are the most powerful dissemination tool we have ever had," says Leslie Cameron, director of administration and communications in the Public Interest Directorate. "We can reach unprecedented numbers of members, groups and interested individuals who have typically ‘pre-selected' us and are more likely to be interested in our particular content. … Our members and other audiences can interact with us, by commenting, retweeting, liking and sharing. This gives us fast feedback on what is interesting and valued by our various audiences."

APA Style has its own blog and Facebook page. "We use social media to connect with our customer base, especially students and librarians," says Chelsea Lee, a manuscripts editor who helps to manage both sites. "We use social media to provide tips on APA Style and academic writing and answer questions from users." This customer service not only improves users' perceptions of APA Style, it gives staff insights into areas of academic writing that can be leveraged to develop new products.

For the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS), having a social media presence was a no-brainer, according to Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD, APAGS's associate executive director. "Most APAGS members are on Facebook, so that is our primary social media outlet," he says. "It's a great way to reach many members who may not be on our listservs."

APA entered the social media world cautiously. "We were concerned early on about the free-for-all nature of some of the sites," recalls Farberman. "APA has a hard-earned reputation for fostering serious science, promoting the discipline and serving the public interest. Some of us were worried that our efforts to communicate science-based public information might be sidetracked by unproductive debates."

But unproductive conversations have rarely been a problem, say APA's social media managers. "One of the issues that we faced early on is how to handle comments contrary to APA policy or not supported by psychological science," says Cameron. "Do we remove comments, do we respond? Generally, we decide to let the conversation happen."

One of the perennial questions asked in both for-profit and nonprofit corporations is whether the return on investment makes social media worth it — and if it's even possible to gauge.

So far, APA thinks it's worth it. "These sites are now major conduits to our highly successful website," says Farberman. "And we are reaching people we would not otherwise be able to afford to reach via, say, conventional advertising, helping them to understand how psychology affects their everyday lives."

For the Office of Publications and Databases, social media has enabled them to deliver better products more quickly. "We use social media to reach out to customers and share information with the goal of creating venues for online communication, developing an online presence and marketing our e-products," says Brian Adams, product development specialist in PsycINFO.

Across APA, there is a sense that social media are now a fact of life — both inside and outside the office. "There will come a time when we will no longer talk about social media as a new, distinct entity," says Brownawell. "It will be seamlessly woven into communications, entertainment and news media. People will have an expectation for professionals to have some type of social media presence, much like businesses are expected to have email and Web pages."