nA interviews: Simon Clothier, founder of Student Nurse Journeys

Student Nurse Journeys and Beyond is an online community that now exceeds 15,000 members! I caught up with the group's leading member to talk all things community in student nursing.

Nursing's online community tends to focus on Twitter for various reasons and the student nurse presence has been greatly strengthened by new additions of the Student Nurse Project and WeStudentNurses. But there are other platforms that are showing great success. One that might have flown under your radar is the Student Nurse Journeys and Beyond group (SNJ&B) on Facebook, which recently tipped the scales at 15,000 members, following a sustained and explosive growth.

That's a lot of students! For context, each year's student nurse cohort enrols around 28,000 people. I don't have data to hand to back this up fully, but SNJ&B appears to be the most active student nurse community in the country, with dozens of posts and responses added every day. More than that, because Facebook offers tools for moderating communities in a way Twitter can't, the group has a remarkably positive culture and quality of discussion, thanks to the leadership and curation of the team running it.

What better time then, as the group founder Simon Clothier collects an award for Enhancing The Student Experience, to have a chat with Simon about creating and leading such a successful community?

Hi Simon, congratulations on 15,000 members! How do you feel about the success of the group today? Is it an important milestone for you?

SC: As I answer this question we are not quite at 15k! I am still amazed that the group has got to the size it has, 1,000 members was a milestone, let alone 15,000!

I remember your early posts in the other group, and the warm reception you got to your positivity. What motivated you to start micro-blogging your nursing journey there?

SC: I wanted to be able to just talk about, share and reflect on things that others might be going through too. I have always had a mostly positive experience too, I find that there is a lot of negativity around nursing, so I fight it head on with what I can only describe, as being a largely positive experience so far.

Occasionally it felt like there were some people who didn't always appreciate your posts there. Was that discouraging? How did you deal with that?

SC: I am terribly stubborn, some of the comments did shake me a bit, but there was support from some of the admins in that group and they encouraged me to carry on. I just kept coming back when something new, interesting or good happened to me, I think people sometimes mistake positivity as arrogance or over confidence.

And that brings us to you founding SNJ&B as your own group. Was that your idea? How did that come about?

SC: It was suggested by one of the admins in the other group, on more than one occasion, however I cannot remember what the final trigger was to me actually doing it! I remember setting it up, one Saturday morning, before a day on my first-year community placement, I added one member (with their permission) as you need this to start a FB group. I then remember sitting in the surgery car park (it was raining), watching the first few join requests come in. The layout and format, which is largely the same was all my idea, the picture of the green and purple uniform has always been the kind of logo, it will change slightly in a few months but will remain recognisable.

I can imagine it must've been quite freeing to be leading on the tone and discussion all of a sudden. Was leadership in that way something you thought about at the time? And now?

SC: My previous life was management in the civil service, so some of it was a natural progression, it has been nice to mould the group into what I was hoping to achieve.

I joined SNJ&B relatively recently, obviously the group is huge now but was it quiet to start with, or could you get a sense of success right away?

SC: It trickled into life, the membership grew and grew, and continues to do so, there were fewer posts with fewer members but it never felt like it would fail. There was a gap, a need for a group where people could just say how they were and how their day had been, all the achievements, no matter how small. I would say it was a success, but no one is ever more surprised than me at how it has grown.

Did you advertise much, or was it organic growth through word of mouth?

SC: I did, with permission, advertise the group in some other groups I belonged to, but it has not been advertised for quite some time now, new members either find it or are pointed towards it. I know that some universities, mention it at open days as well as interview days.

SNJ&B now looks to be the most active student nurse social media group in the UK, getting there in quite a short space of time. Is there anything you think makes the group different to what came before? What's the secret sauce?

SC: I think it might have been the fact that there is no affiliation to anything such as unions or particular groups. Other than that, I am guessing the nature of the group and the ethos behind it, has led to it being a success.

I think for me what attracted me to the group was a number of smart decisions you've made, like allowing anonymous posting of questions, which protects confidentiality as well as stopping some of the judgemental "piling on" that you see elsewhere on sensitive topics. And there's the relative absence of do-my-homework-for-me requests too. How much is that a specific direction, or just the overall philosophy or culture of what the group is?

SC: Some have said there are too many guidelines, I think there are just enough, some say we are too heavy handed, some think it is right. With large numbers of people in any group, we will never please everyone, also it is important to remember we do not run the group on request of members, it is free to join and not affiliated to any group that asks for a contribution. We do get our fair share of posts for help with uni work, we tend to delete them now.

The group is fast paced, yet in online spaces you'll often see the majority of users be the silent lurkers, who are there to read and learn. Do you do anything specifically to serve that group? They're clearly sticking around for some value that they're getting!

SC: I guess there are lots of people who do not interact, for whatever reason, the group is what it is, we don't change how we do things for any particular group or type of user.

Going forward from here, you're on the cusp of qualifying, so what does the future hold for you? And the group?

SC: I am just finishing my Critical Care placement as I answer these questions, a few days of lectures follow that, then at the end of April I start my management placement, I cannot believe how quickly it has all gone! The group, will continue to evolve, it continues to grow and develop in its own way, I have no plans to change anything, we constantly update the guidelines and monitor how things are going, so any changes are minor and to keep the group a safe and friendly place to be.

Do you see opportunities for the community building out to other platforms like YouTube, Instagram and elsewhere? (full disclosure: I'm involved in a small way with the Twitter presence for SNJ&B)

SC: Currently we do not interact with platforms other than Twitter, even that is smaller than the FB group. There are currently no plans to change this.

Any final tips for students looking to build up community and peer-support?

SC: Try not to reinvent the wheel, there are support groups on Facebook and other platforms, we find that some of the questions get asked in all the bigger groups already. Make sure if there is not one already, that you set up a uni cohort group, even if it is just for sharing timetable changes and the like.

Many thanks to Simon for taking time out to answer my questions! With recent calls from the NHS England Chief Nurse for positivity in nursing discussions, you owe it to yourself to check out the group, I hope you'll like it and join in.

And more than that, as I have recently, reflect on why the group works as it does, thanks to the leadership of the team that runs it. You could write an entire PhD thesis on promoting positive cultures within student peer-support...