How to Get Started With Healthcare Social Media
It doesn’t matter if you’re a sole practitioner, part of a small clinic or managing a large group practice or hospital, medical and dental professionals and those in related specialties all need an effective social media presence.
You don’t manage your practice – or provide exactly the same care – as you did 10 or 20 years ago. You use the very latest tools and techniques to give your patients the best care possible. It’s exactly the same with marketing – using the latest tools and techniques can establish you as a leader in your field. And these days patients expect nothing less.
It’s all about sharing.
Recommendations and referrals from friends, or friends of friends, and reviews from total strangers can all carry more weight than anything you say about yourself. But social media – if you use it properly – doesn’t focus on you talking about yourself. It gives others an opportunity to do the talking, and to share their thoughts with everyone else.
That’s your goal.
Consumers – your current and future patients – are using social media to search for information as well as services. They want professional advice from real doctors. Not surprisingly studies show they trust doctors and dentists far more than drug companies or others with apparent bias. Nowhere is trust more important than in healthcare. You need to establish yourself and your practice as trusted resources for accurate information.
On the other hand, patients are starting to see themselves as equals. They want to play a greater role in managing their own care. They’re using social networks to help make that happen, and they expect you to join them.
Marketing is essential to sustain and grow your practice.
With traditional advertising, you put your message out there and hope appropriate targets see it when they care enough to follow up. Or remember your advertising when they do care. A dubious proposition at best.
Social networks can help draw people to you, people already interested in what you have to offer. You can acquire more patients through direct referrals and by attracting prospects to your website for more information. Using social media:
- Personalizes you and your practice. That’s particularly important in the medical or dental fields where people are so often leery or feel intimidated, even more so with complex specialties that involve surgery, reconstruction, etc.
- Appeals to younger patients, important for growing your practice.
- Builds your reputation among patients, in your local community and in the medical community.
- Is infinitely cheaper than traditional methods, most of which have often been considered “tacky” by healthcare professionals. Yet it’s far more effective.
It’s important to recognize that using social media isn’t the only answer, it’s part of the equation, and not every social network is appropriate for healthcare professionals. But perception is everything. So if you ignore social media, or your efforts are off-target or unfocused, your practice will surely slip by the wayside.
7 Great Ways to Use Social Networks
Each social network is unique, with a different set of users. So each one offers a different set of potential opportunities to market your practice. But there is one universal truth: whatever you post must have value. It must be informative or interesting enough to resonate with your audience, so much so that they feel compelled to respond to you and/or share your communication with others.
1. Educate patients - and their friends.
A recent Pew study notes that 72% of internet users reported searching online for healthcare information in the past year. With all the inaccurate and ill advised information out there, it’s doubly important for you to have a presence and share your knowledge with useful information.
You can use social platforms to explain what you do, and how. Answer questions and allay concerns. Sharing educational materials and other resources establishes you as the local expert and helps you connect with and engage patients and prospective patients. Introduce your staff and the work they do. Speak out about healthcare trends relating to your specialty or pending legislative issues that could affect your practice or patient care.
Telling stories demonstrates your expertise and personalizes your work. It also helps reduce the fear factor, something that often keeps dental patients in particular from making or keeping needed appointments.
Better communication can improve patient compliance and outcomes. It can even reduce the volume of email and phone questions that take up precious office hours for you and your staff.
2. Start a conversation
Since social networks are based on sharing, it’s easy to truly interact with patients and help them interact with one another. Encouraging them to share their experiences with one another helps alleviate concerns and it can share hope for the future when it’s needed most.
3. Generate referrals.
Participating in social networks humanizes you, but it also helps people get the information they want and need about your credentials and experience – facts that will support their decision to choose you over someone else, or to refer you to others.
4. Accumulate online reviews.
If you think online reviews and ratings are only for hotels and plumbers, think again. Consumers rely on the internet to make decisions about everything these days, and that includes healthcare providers. There are several websites devoted specifically to reviewing medical practitioners in various specialties.
So when patients are complimentary about you and your practice, ask them to post those comments online, too – not just on the review sites but on your social media pages.
Online reviews provide valuable feedback for you, too.
5. Improve efficiency.
You can use social media for practical purposes such as setting and managing appointments, including filling last-minute openings in your schedule.
6. Promote your practice.
Of course you can use your online networks to make specials offers to patients and prospects. After all, your goal is to market yourself and grow your business. Just don’t make that your primary objective or your overtures will quickly become the online equivalent of junk mail.
7. Learn more about your patients.
You can capture detailed demographic and sociographic information about your online friends and fans and use it to better analyze and refine your social media marketing. Armed with the right data, you can identify new groups of potential patients and better target your outreach efforts.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but it’s unethical and inappropriate to allude to patient details or other confidential information in public social network posts. To further address privacy and liability concerns, the AMA and other professional associations suggest you separate your personal and professional social media presence. Patients want to know you’re skilled and trustworthy, they don’t need to see pictures of your vacation or join your fantasy football game.
For many people, especially busy professionals, the social media scene can feel daunting. The well-known options are overwhelming enough, and new sites keep appearing. You’re not alone if you can barely keep up with your Facebook page – assuming your practice even has a page – let alone all the others.
So let’s examine what’s out there with an eye toward how each of these sites might work for you.
The Most Prominent Social Media Sites
Within the confines of the particular platform, your posts can be about anything that relates to your practice, your specialty or healthcare in general -- any excuse to put yourself in front of patients and potential patients. You’re giving them regular reminders that you’re available to help them, with information and with professional services.
This is the social networking Big Daddy, and the site is ideal for promoting every aspect of your practice to patients and prospective patients, so a presence on Facebook is a must-have.
Visuals are critical here -- you can publish text-only posts, but they’ll be ignored. Post some comments to accompany photos of your new receptionist, a new service you’re offering or other news about your practice. Share links to your newest video, your blog or information people can download from your website. Share links to valuable offsite resources. Tie in with local or national news or events such as National Chiropractic Awareness Month.
Run an occasional promotion or contest. After all, your goal is to market your business, so it’s OK to overtly do that as long as self-promotion doesn’t dominate your postings. Require participants to “like” you first, and give them a reward for following through – a discount or even something as simple as a free toothbrush. Reward them for referrals, too.
Thanks to their sharing power, your current patients are your strongest Facebook allies when it spreading the word about your postings and commenting on your services. But you can also create special promotions to recruit new patients, perhaps with a discount for their first visit.
With only 140 characters per tweet, this isn’t the platform for complex posts. That's not to say Twitter doesn't have its place in the healthcare social media marketing world, though. Twitter users do like a two-way conversation, so this is another good place for contests or promotions aimed at starting a conversation or recruiting new patients. Encourage retweets and use hashtags to have a discussion or publicize an event or promotion.
Tweeting is also a great way to send quick notifications about a new blog posting, the latest last-minute appointment availability, or your initial reaction to proposed healthcare legislation. Tweet a “tip of the day” that relates to your practice or specialty – something people should do, a link to something they should see or read, etc.
This is the business end of the social equation. Your page can include comprehensive information about your current endeavors as well as your background – education, credentials, experience, accolades, all the things that go into establishing your reputation, in all your “communities.” Having and using a LinkedIn presence is essential for any health care professional.
You can join professional groups to discuss issues, trends and best practices, network with one another and obtain referrals that go beyond your existing offline professional relationships.
Originally conceived as a networking site for job hunters, LinkedIn is also an excellent forum in which to discover or recruit new staff.
LinkedIn has become the best source of leads for B2B companies among social media networks. Therefore, any specialist who relies on general practitioners or other specialists for a steady stream of new patients should be active on the site. Connect with other Drs. on LinkedIn and share updates or, even better, links to your own content and build up your reputation and referral network.
Though it's taken a little while to catch on, Google+ is becoming more and more important for social media marketing. It functions much the same as Facebook, although in some respects it’s easier to use. It may seem like a redundant parallel universe, but Google+ is growing so fast you can’t afford to ignore it. And since it’s part of the Google family it interfaces seamlessly with other Google Apps.
The Circles feature enables you to more easily group your contacts and maintain separation between your online professional presence and your online friends-and-family. You can share with one person, a circle or everyone.
Google+ ratings are becoming as important as “likes.” Viewers can give your posts a “+1” and you can share that with others. Put the Google +1 button on your website and blog, too, so people can share that content with others.
Business pages here link with Google+ Local, formerly known as Google Places. With so many people searching online for local businesses, including healthcare providers, it’s important to be listed here. It’s not a social site, it’s more like a business card with photos, but your free listing will make it much easier for people to find you using Google search, Maps, etc.
Virtually all your patients, and certainly the younger ones you need to grow and sustain yourbusiness, grew up with television. Creating your own YouTube channel may seem intimidating, but it can do wonders for your social reach. They’re perfect for patient and public education and staff training. They demonstrate your professional expertise, so you can attract attention from your peers, too, depending on the topics you choose. Brand your video at the beginning and end with at least your name and web address, and do that somewhere in the middle, too. You want to ensure viewers associate you with the content.
Two critical caveats: keep it short and keep it simple.
Set up a monitor in your waiting room where patients can watch your videos. And, of course, post the link to all your social media contacts whenever you create a new one.
Think PowerPoint, only online for everyone to see. If video scares you – though it shouldn’t – you can create similar content in static slide format. Unlike a conference presentation, though, your slides can’t just have a few bullet points because typically there’s no narrator. You can incorporate pictures or other graphics to illustrate or dress up the text. And you can actually turn your presentation into a webinar by syncing the slides with MP3 audio.
This is a popular site that offers broad-scale potential for building your reputation, promoting your practice and attracting new patients. You can share publicly or privately.
The same best practices apply here as to YouTube – keep it short and keep it simple for public consumption, and be sure each slide is branded with your name and web address.
Online professional communities – too specialized and numerous to name here – are an increasingly popular way to share and learn from your peers. You can consult with colleagues on individual patient concerns, discuss trends and current issues within your specialty and the healthcare industry in general, and obtain referrals.
Social Media Sites on the Rise in Marketing
The list of social media opportunities continues to grow. Clearly you don’t have time – and it doesn’t even make sense – to pursue all of them. However, keeping up with the trends and popularity of the newer and more niche sites, particularly as they can apply to marketing, is a great way to show your patients and potential patients that you're current.
The scrapbooking craze has moved online. This hugely popular site was inititally dominated by recipes and craft ideas, but has grown to be a complex visual search engine. Though at first glance Pinterest appears to just be a collection of photographs, each picture links to an accompanying website. You can "pin" infographics for your blog posts or videos that link back to your other social media sites, essentially giving your content an additional platform on which to thrive.
Pinterest is divided into subject-matter categories, so your material won’t get lost in an irrelevant world. You can create categorized boards from your own pins and "repins," which can acquire followers. Some examples of themed boards might be "Healthy Recipes," "Exercises for a Healthy Heart," or "Patient Stories."
Another visual medium for your social media marketing, Instagram operates as more of a stream of photos you've updated and edited "instantly." While you can just as easily share photos in Facebook albums, Instagram became popular due to the filter and editing options. Since immediacy is part of the draw, Instagram could be useful for posting "behind-the-scenes" or "sneak peeks" that make your followers feel especially connected to your healthcare organization.
However, if you choose to utilize Instagram, make sure you connect it to your Facebook or Twitter to attract more followers.
This is yet another web-based news site, as in “I reddit online.” Get it? Topics run the gamut from highly cerebral to entirely insipid, and it’s a popularity contest, with site visitors voting to determine how prominently each news article is displayed.
Registered users can post to this site and share links, and you can conduct “live chat” Q&A sessions. Even President Obama hosted one. Overall, though, this site isn’t likely to become a focal point for promoting healthcare-related businesses.
And here’s yet another new site designed to help people find answers to whatever they want to know. Here, your search is organized using “boards” where you can pose a question then collect answers you find elsewhere or – and here’s the good part – write your own.
You can become a contributor by writing something new, but you could also repost or repurpose content you’ve created for other platforms, including articles you’ve written for professional publications, helping build and reinforce your reputation as a trusted resource.
Using a variety of social media platforms provides exponentially greater benefits. The point is to post appropriately for each platform then link them to one another, creating an aggregate value and far larger audience than any one network can provide, regardless of its size. It’s the sharing that makes it “social.”
Develop a Winning Plan
You have to focus your efforts to be successful and efficient. There’s no way even the most avid, social-media-focused business person can do all this without a cadre of dedicated marketing staffers, but even the smallest practice can create a social media marketing plan that’s scaled to fit and makes sense.
You don’t have to do it all at once. In fact, spreading yourself too thin would just dilute your efforts anyway. So start small and work your way up – slowly and systematically.
To create your social media marketing plan, you’ll need to follow a familiar series of steps – the same ones you use every day in your practice:
- Diagnosis. First, review your current situation and clearly define your goals. Exactly what do you hope to accomplish via social networking? Are you looking for better communication with patients? To grow your practice by acquiring new patients? To enhance your professional standing within the medical community or your visibility where you live and work? Maybe all of the above, but you’ll need to prioritize.
- Developing an individualized treatment plan. Which social media outlets will most closely meet your needs depends on the unique attributes of your practice and also your goals.
- Monitoring and analyzing results. Any medical professional can readily understand the importance of benchmarks and testing to ensure progress is being made as desired. If the prescribed treatment isn’t efficacious, it needs to be modified. Thankfully most social networks offer reasonably detailed tracking. You can get the data almost instantly, allowing you to alter your plans quickly.
And here’s where social media management diverges from at least some areas of healthcare management: the process never ends.
Social networking is an ongoing, continuous marketing activity. If you just take a shot at it and quit, it’s no different than running one print ad in some magazine and expecting it to support your practice forever. Or expecting a patient to take one pill and be cured.
Best practices to keep in mind
The rules of engagement and etiquette vary somewhat from platform to platform, but you’ll need to bear in mind these best practices that apply to all social networks:
- Keep personal pages entirely separate from professional ones. Everything you post, link, etc. to or from your professional sites should be relevant to your practice.
- Complete your bio in as much detail as possible and make sure people can see it. Twitter gives you just 160 characters, Facebook and LinkedIn give you a more extensive opportunity to tell people about yourself. Do it. Use a photo, incorporate your most appropriate keywords, include your web address (no abbreviations, please) and other contact information.
- Customize each site as much as you can. It should look and feel just like your website to provide a consistent impression of you and your practice.
- Link each site to your website and also to your other social media accounts. Actively link back and forth among them when you post messages. And advertise your social presence offline, too, by putting the icons on your business cards or other marketing materials, correspondence, email signature, etc. It’s called cross-promotion.
- Always – as in every time – respond to any negative reviews or comments, as quickly as possible. Say thanks for the compliments, too, as often as you can. Both are considered essential for establishing the kind of relationships that make social media valuable for marketing your practice.
- Have some fun. No matter how serious your work, there’s always a lighter side or random elements of humor that you can share, and your friends and fans will especially appreciate that. It’s one more way to humanize yourself and your practice.
- Don’t overdo it - not that you have the time.
There’s more, but you get the idea. To successfully use social media for business marketing, you have to learn the basics and understand the nuances of using each site properly. It can seem as if the minute you get fairly comfortable the site itself changes or trends in social networking veer in a different direction, so you have to learn all over again.
And to be truly effective, your social networking must integrate seamlessly with your other online efforts, especially your website. You need carefully crafted landing pages, timely and well-targeted keyword research and mobile optimization to capture attention and response from the increasing number of folks searching for information via mobile devices.
The Costs of Healthcare Social Media
You wouldn’t attempt to handle your own legal or accounting work. You may be a highly educated and specialized professional, but not in those fields. The same holds true for social media marketing. It’s time-consuming to keep up with the constantly evolving landscape, and even the initial learning curve can be steep. Each of the sites is continuously offering new features, not to mention the entirely new sites that keep popping up.
What’s a professional to do? The options include managing social media in-house. This includes a full time salary and benefits for an individual or team. Or, team up with an inbound marketing agency that’s expert in all aspects of inbound marketing including social media management. Think of it as a consultation.
Your marketing pros will work hand-in-hand with you every step of the way, to make sure your social networking is fully on target. They’ll help you outline a course of action that fits your interests and time constraints. And they’ll ensure your social networking plan smoothly and strategically augments the rest of your marketing.
The best inbound marketing agencies will help you evaluate results so you can easily see which factors are most important and how you’re doing overall, the same way you discuss treatment progress with patients. They’ll help you avoid both the common mistakes and the more subtle missteps that can weaken or nullify your efforts.
They can even help you execute the plan. That’s critical, because focus is important, but so is consistency. You have to stay active with social media. Because if you aren’t there patients and prospects will move on without you.
Our team is ready to assist you in handling the entire lead life cycle from lead generation to close. If you're looking to build out your marketing efforts for the digital age, then we want to be a part of your team. Reach out to us today for an initial consultation.