Dentists use social networks to collaborate

The British Dental Association (BDA) is using social software to allow members to communicate more effectively and offer mutual support.

The British Dental Association (BDA) is using social software to allow members to communicate more effectively and offer mutual support.

It has built its own online community that offers blogs, forums, and both public and private groups.

The BDA is a membership organisation with elected representatives for different areas. The aim of the project was to give members a way to communicate more directly with representatives, and to collaborate internally.

Barry Rutter, web services manager at the BDA, said people are geographically dispersed and have responded well to having an easy way to communicate.

The experiences with the software may have helpful lessons for trade unions, charities and trade associations, he said.

"It works for any kind of problem where you want people to be able to talk about different topics," he said. "For any membership organisation, it is a superb way to communicate and support members outside of the traditional ways."

The challenge lies in building up the community, and getting people to use it in the first place by finding the "core influencers" to start and drive discussions.

His advice for others trying out social networks is to make sure they have support from those at the top of the organisation. "It is also important to get the necessary engagement. We spent a lot of time in the first six months going round branches to speak to people, and show them the possibilities."

He said managers should be flexible over how the networks are used, and not try to control the process too much. "You can plan, but these things are always organic and people will use the network in ways you could not predict."

Rob Howard, CTO at Telligent, whose software the BDA used, said it is possible to analyse the data on the networks to show a return on investment. Analysing can show what is being discussed, what ideas have come out of the communities, and how engaged people are, he said.

The organisation originally planned to focus on forums, but said users of the software had started forming public and private groups more to discuss particular topics specific to their regions or jobs.

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