The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Teaching Tips 

We're All in New Territory Now: A Multigenerational Look at Using Facebook to Support Colleagues

Kim D. Belcik, PhD, RN-BC, CNE


Facebook can be used by nurse educators to share their own successes and vulnerabilities, as well as to support and encourage colleagues virtually and instantaneously, and is often influenced by their generation. This article shares examples drawn from my own experience and gives nurse educators suggestions on how to use Facebook to make positive comments of support.

J Contin Educ Nurs. 2016;47(7):302–305.


Facebook can be used by nurse educators to share their own successes and vulnerabilities, as well as to support and encourage colleagues virtually and instantaneously, and is often influenced by their generation. This article shares examples drawn from my own experience and gives nurse educators suggestions on how to use Facebook to make positive comments of support.

J Contin Educ Nurs. 2016;47(7):302–305.

What you think about Facebook® may have more to do with your generation than you might think. Although there are exceptions, as a cohort the Baby Boomers choose not to share much when it comes to their work as nurses and take a dim view of others sharing anything other than articles or virtual calls to action. Generation X are tech-savvy, frequent users (Hill, 2015) who share everything from their successes at work to times when they fear they've failed to live up to their own ideals. Millennials are tech-dependent digital natives (Hill, 2015) who believe if you do not share it, it did not happen, so they may overshare on Face-book, posting pictures of their first stethoscope, their first clinical site, and (whoops) their first beer. Now enter Generation Z, those born after 1996, who have watched as Gen Xers and Millennials have messed up on Facebook so they are more cautious about and are aware of the impact oversharing can have on their future careers (Williams, 2015).

As a nurse educator and a member of Generation X, I have watched different generations of nurses use Facebook to give each other moral support and encouragement. Yet my positive experiences with Facebook do not match up with what I read. Most articles in the nursing literature continue to focus on how social media can damage (Neporent, 2014) or ruin careers before they even start (Hanners, 2013). Although social media guidelines (National Council of State Boards of Nursing, 2011) and principles do exist (American Nurses Association, 2011), as well as guidelines by schools of nursing and clinical agencies, they too focus on the don'ts of social media use in nursing.

With so little written about the dos of social media, I began collecting examples of nurses' professional and compassionate Facebook exchanges. During the last year, I have seen how heart-warming, virtual exchanges can boost the confidence of nurse colleagues through supportive comments, helpful guidance, and recommendations laced with beneficial resources.

This article offers suggestions for nurse educators on using Facebook to support colleagues who share either successes or vulnerabilities by citing four examples drawn from my own experience. All names have been changed to protect confidentiality, and direct quotes from Facebook posts are italicized. The Table introduces social media terms used in the following four examples in which readers may not be familiar.

Social Media Terms with Definitions and Uses


Social Media Terms with Definitions and Uses

Supporting a Colleague Pursuing a Higher Nursing Degree

Vanessa is a Baby Boomer colleague who has been pursuing her RN-to-BSN in an online program. We have stayed connected because Vanessa uses Facebook to share her progress in her courses. This allows me to make positive comments in response to Vanessa's postings about school, especially when she writes about struggling in a course or feeling unsure about her ability to succeed. My messages of encouragement may be as short as Way to go! or You've got this.

Beyond verbal support, the Facebook instant message feature allowed me to help Vanessa complete a project in her community health course by virtually connecting her with a school nurse and Baby Boomer colleague of mine. Our Facebook connections also allow me to remind Vanessa to slow down and enjoy her accomplishments with posts, such as Go do something nice for yourself today!

Supporting a Colleague at Pivotal Moments

John, another Gen-X colleague, teaches at a small nursing school and began pursuing his PhD in nursing a few years ago. Since then, I've kept up with his progress as he has shared his milestones via Facebook. Recently, he shared a photograph he took of himself on campus, looking proud in his tie, with the caption At University to defend my dissertation proposal this afternoon (J. Jones, personal communication, August 9, 2015).

Within an hour of posting, he had more than 30 likes and several comments on his posting. Although a majority of the comments were words of encouragement from friends, family, and nurse colleagues, mine went beyond affirmation to this directive Before you go into the room do some confidence moves, you know like stand with your hands on your hips, Superman style, and say you're awesome. I, in turn, received positive feedback when another nurse colleague liked my comment saying it was Great advice!

Supporting a New RN Colleague

Madison is a Millennial and young relative I befriended on Facebook to follow her journey as she pursued her BSN. I've kept up with Madison's school experience by viewing her Facebook timeline for status updates about her struggles with coursework and her doubts about choosing nursing as a career. During her time in school, I often sent her personal instant messages of support or encouragement or posted them on her timeline.

On down days, I have encouraged her to remember why she wanted to be a nurse in the first place and shared recommendations for We sites and readings to assist her transition to her new role. When Madison took her state board examinations for licensure and reached out to me for guidance using the chat feature, my practical advice for taking the NCLEX® included driving by the examination site the day before to plan her route. We celebrated her successfully passing the NCLEX and continue to keep in touch about her adjustment to working in a busy emergency department.

Supporting a Future Colleague

Katie, a member of Generation Z and senior nursing student, shared that she and her classmates use a catchy hashtag to describe their fears and frustrations about preparing for tests in another course. She asked, “Is that wrong?” Although it sounded as harmless as passing paper notes in class, I knew one finger swipe on a smartphone could turn a private conversation public. I was not sure how to respond to her question, so I said something about being in new territory and figuring out the dos and don'ts as we go along.

Now after reading Williams' (2015) article discussing the social media behavior of Generation Z that includes those aged 15 to 19 years, I understand their hesitation about using Facebook much better. Not only do they appreciate the importance of building an online brand and persona, but they realize also that missteps are captured for all time and might be dredged up and used against them much later. So although they share concerns about privacy with their Baby Boomer grandparents, they have the tech know-how of Generation X and their Millennial elders that allows them to protect their online privacy. In fact, just as Katie described, some Gen Zers have embraced anonymous sharing on Facebook by creating alternative personas, secret hashtags or choosing other platforms to communicate where incriminating photos disappear in an instant (Williams, 2015).

If after reading the above examples, you are inspired to start using Facebook with your colleagues, consider using the following guidelines.

Guidelines for Using Facebook to Cheer and Support Colleagues

  1. Enrich your Facebook network experience by using it to lift up nurse colleagues by making positive comments of support and encouragement.

  2. Celebrate professional and personal triumphs. Give support to others when they have failures. Remind them that tough days are followed by great days.

  3. Offer comments of support or understanding at just the right moment, when your colleague needs it the most by instant messaging or posting on their timeline right then.

  4. Consider taking the conversation offline via a one-on-one meeting, telephone call, or e-mail if you find yourself wanting to dive deeper into the conversation with your colleague.

  5. Use the chat function to send a more personal one-on-one message that you only want your colleague to view and not share with their entire network of friends.

  6. Check your organization's policies regarding the use of social media.


Recent events confirm that we are in new territory when it comes to sharing and supporting each other's professional successes and vulnerabilities. Kelly Johnson, a young nurse representing Colorado in the 2015 Miss America Pageant, delivered a 2-minute monologue on what it meant to be a nurse. Although she was cautioned that contestants who give monologues rarely win the crown, she came out in scrubs and told the story of a man with Alzheimer's who taught her that she was not just a nurse. Nurses from coast to coast took to Facebook and other forms of social media to show their support for Kelly and for nursing (“Miss Colorado Walks,” 2015).

Several days later a popular daytime talk show host mocked Kelly's monologue, asking why she was wearing a “doctor's stethoscope” around her neck and donning a costume. These remarks unleashed an outpouring of support for Kelly and for nursing. Nurses stood in virtual solidarity with Kelly by sharing photos of themselves in their workplaces proudly wearing their stethoscopes accompanied by hashtags such as #proudtobeanurse, #NursesUnite, and #notjustanurse.

This public outcry prompted Johnson and Johnson to pull their advertising from the controversial talk show, and the American Nurses Association (ANA) encouraged members to take to social media to share their photographs and stories. Members received an e-mail requesting that they continue to take action by expressing themselves “on social media via ANA's Facebook page or using the hashtag #NursesShareYourStethoscope.”


You may have hesitations about sharing your own or supporting others' successes or vulnerabilities on Facebook. It may be related to your generation or even to your personal preferences. But look what happened when millions of nurses took to the Internet to support one nurse with posted pictures of a lone stethoscope lovingly draped around a new nurse or a group of nursing students proudly standing with their teacher.

Now imagine using Facebook to give a high-five, a pat on the back, or a virtual hug to colleagues just when they need it the most—a boost that will help them celebrate a win or the courage to keep going after a disappointment—all of this, while keeping in mind the privacy concerns shared by both Baby Boomers and Generation Z. It is your choice.


Social Media Terms with Definitions and Uses

Social Media TermDefinition of TermUse of Term
ChatCommunicating with a friend in a one-on-one conversation that is not shared with their entire network of Facebook friends. Also may be called instant messaging.Vanessa: I need to complete a project in my community health class by interviewing a nurse. Do you have any colleagues that could help me fulfill my assignment?Kim: Sure Vanessa! I'm so proud of your progress. I have a friend who is a school nurse near you. I'll ask her if it's ok and connect the two of you via Facebook. Vanessa: Thanks Kim!
HashtagTagging comments on social media such as Facebook with the pound sign (#) followed by a short description. Allows users to follow themes and see trends.Kim: You spoke for over 2.7 million of us, Miss Colorado. Thank you. Good luck with grad school! #proudtobeanurse
LikeGiving positive feedback.Click on the “like” icon by any posting on a timeline.
StatusSharing a short message on your timeline about what you are doing, thinking, or feeling. It can include a picture or hyperlink, as well as data about your location if you choose.Kim: Brushing up on my otoscope skills here at summer camp. It's been awhile!
TimelineContains everything you have posted chronologically. Where friends can leave message or where you can update friends with anything you want to share.See Zuckerberg (2015).

Dr. Belcik is Clinical Assistant Professor, St. David's School of Nursing, Texas State University, Round Rock, Texas.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The author thanks Shawn Boyd and Drs. Barbara Covington and Kathleen Heinrich for their compassionate critiques.

Address correspondence to Kim D. Belcik, PhD, RN-BC, CNE, Clinical Assistant Professor, St. David's School of Nursing, Texas State University, 1555 University Boulevard, Round Rock, TX 78665; e-mail:


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