Dermatology Times presents a year-long exploration of social media—the many ways that it impacts the field of dermatology as well as your medical practice. The series will provide strategies and tips for how you can use social to best effect: how to get started, which platforms to use, secrets for incorporating video, AMA guidelines, and more.
We begin with a description of what social media is and why it’s important, specific to the dermatologic field.
Adam Mamelak, M.D., a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in Austin Texas, says he participates in any social media site he can. Why? Because, he says, social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are where everyone he wants to reach spends time.
“I went to a Mohs Collage meeting last May in Arizona and looked around a conference of probably 1,000 Mohs surgeons. I would say that over the course of this hour talk, 50 plus percent of them checked their Facebook page,” Dr. Mamelak says. “When you see this many people engaging in social media, you have to ask yourself … shouldn’t we be spending time on here, as well?”
Personal recommendations and referrals are evolving, thanks to social media, he says.
“Now, instead of calling [friend or family], they just post it on Facebook and say, ‘Can anyone recommend a good dermatologist?’” Dr. Mamelak says.
Gene Colon, Esq., vice president medical and media relations for La Roche-PosayLa Roche-Posay, a division of L’Oreal, uses social media to connect with potential customers and for brand awareness. It also uses social media to promote its SOS Save our Skin campaign, which it does in conjunction with the Women’s Dermatologic Society, according to Gene Colon, Esq., vice president medical and media relations for La Roche-Posay.
“We find social media is a good venue for us to reach those people who … are shopping online, getting information online, communicating with their friends online. So, we think it’s imperative that we are part of that dialogue,” Colon says.
Dermatologists might use social media, professionally, to communicate with colleagues and patients. Dr. Mamelak, for example, says he turns to social media to interact with patients, potential patients, colleagues (including referring doctors) and respected experts he wants to follow.
Dermatologists who want to be part of those and other conversations need to be on social media and engaged with what’s going on, according to Naren Arulrajah, CEO of Ekwa.com, a marketing firm that works with more than 200 doctors, including a large percentage of dermatologists.
After all, times are changing. Doctors are no longer isolated the way they once were, according to Mamelak.
“Now patients have access and they want to find doctors’ information in other ways. I find engaging people by social media one of the best ways,” says Dr. Mamelak, who has been rated by Digital MD as one of the top social media users for skin cancer and skin cancer awareness in the U.S.
Who’s on social media?
Most people who go online for anything also engage in social media.
Like the name implies, social media is any virtual community or network where people create and share information, thoughts and opinions. Some of the more populated platforms include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Others are Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Snapchat, to name a few.
Different people go to different sites for different reasons. But, overall, the numbers of adults in all age groups are increasingly turning to social media. The Pew Research Center reports that as of September 2013, 73% of all internet users are on a social networking site and 42% use multiple sites. Ninety percent of internet users ages 18 to 29 use social media; 78% of adults ages 30 to 49; 65% of 50 to 64 year olds who are online; and 46% of online users 65 and older are on virtual social networks and communities.
Among adults 65 and older, 59% are on the internet and 71% go online daily. Older Americans’ internet use rises with income. Health information is a top motivator for seniors to get online. More than half of seniors who go online search for health information, according to Pew Research Center.
Focusing more on health and the internet: Sixty-one percent of all adults (80% of internet users) turn to the internet for health information. And what these people find impacts their health decision making. Sixty percent of patients seeking health information online say what they found affected how they might treat an illness or condition. Fifty-three percent said it led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion. Nearly 40% said it affected their decisions about whether to see doctors, according to recent Pew Research Center statistics.
The changing face of Facebook
If you think Facebook is for kids, you’ve missed a beat. iStrategyLabs reported in late January 2014:
• There are 180 million Facebook users in the U.S. That’s an increase of nearly 23% since 2010.
• Facebook is not only for the young. In fact, while millions of teens and 20-somethings are leaving the social networking site, 55-and-olders are flocking to Facebook. The site saw a more than 80% increase in 55-and-older users in the last three years and a 41% increase in users 35 to 54.
Engage and be engaged
Communicating on social media is not about the hard sell. It’s about relationship building with the people who are and might be interested in what you have to offer—whether that’s knowledge, opinions, services or products.
“First, social media is a way to communicate and create an ongoing dialogue,” Colon says.
How successful you are depends on your approach. The objective is to engage—not to promote. It’s about listening, sharing and solving the audience’s problems.
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Bryan Vartabedian, M.D.One of the first questions dermatologists should answer before getting involved in social media is what do they want to get out of their public or social presence, according to Bryan Vartabedian, M.D., pediatrician, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and founder of 33Charts.com, a blog he started in 2009, which explores the intersection of medicine, social media and technology.
“You can look at it in a couple of ways. You can look at it from the perspective of input. You can take a platform like Twitter and follow 20 of the most amazing people and get an amazing feed of very interesting information about whatever it is you’re interested in…,” Dr. Vartabedian says. “On the outbound end, it’s a great place to disseminate information about what you do as a dermatologist. It’s a great way to create value and get your name out there.”
How it works
The goal for dermatologists and other professionals is post (words, photos, videos) on social media sites that interest readers enough to prompt them to react by following the dermatologists, liking their pages, responding to what they say or sharing their posts, videos, graphics, photos, etc.
Prompting those reactions means avoiding the me-me-me pitfall. People on social media don’t generally care if a dermatologist boasts about who he is, what he does or what he has in his office, according to Naren Arulrajah, CEO of Ekwa.com, a marketing firm that works with more than 200 doctors, including a large percentage of dermatologists.
“I find that mistake being made quite often. Social media is about being social. If you go to a party and blab about yourself, nobody wants to talk to you. [On social media,] it’s so easy to ignore you because they’re not in front of you,” Arulrajah says.
Same thing goes for engaging in highly controversial topics, such as politics and religion. Ranting about a controversial subject might alienate the very people you’re trying to engage. For example, it might be ok for dermatologists to engage in conversations about politics and health care reform on social media platforms where they communicate with colleagues. Patients, on the other hand, might be offended by politics or other heated topics.
You can engage people in your own backyard
Some might look at social media as a way to market to the masses; not a tool for reaching people within a three-mile radius of a dermatology practice. But that’s not the case.
Social media is the new form of word of mouth, experts say.
“Social media is word of mouth on steroids,” says Patricia Redsicker, social media manager for the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and a former social media consultant for dermatologists and others.
For example, a patient who is thrilled with the results of skin treatments at a local dermatologist’s office is likely to express her satisfaction on Facebook, rather than pick up the phone and rave to a good friend. People are also more likely to look for new doctors and other providers on social media.
“I live in Baltimore. A friend of mine lives about five miles away. She shared on her Facebook page [that she needs a new dentist] and she asked for a recommendation. She had [about] 65 comments,” Redsicker says. “When you see these conversations happening, you can respond on Facebook. If you’re not on Facebook, you don’t know the conversations are happening and … if you don’t know that they’re happening, there’s no way to influence those conversations.”
Facebook is a superior platform for local businesses, according to Redsicker. Dermatologists and other can target people who live in specific zip codes, as well as people by gender and age.
Is social media for every dermatologist?
Participating in social media is a consistent, ongoing effort. For dermatologists, it takes time and, if they hire consultants or staff to manage it, money.
“It is difficult to run a busy practice; then do this stuff in your free time,” Dr. Mamelak says.
Not every dermatologist needs to get involved. Those who plan to retire from practice soon or have more patients than they can handle might comfortably opt out of social media engagement.
Not every social media user wants to engage with their doctors or potential doctors.
“Not every patient that walks through my door likes me on Facebook. Not every patient that walks through the doors is following me on Twitter. Some people don’t want to do that. And for those patients, they’re fine just having a doctor’s office,” Dr. Mamelak says.
Social media might also not be the best of plans for dermatologists who don’t care to learn about its ins and outs. Experts agree social media can be a double-edged sword—making or breaking doctors’ reputations.
The pitfalls of naivety
Those dermatologists who do get involved in social media for professional reasons have to be prepared to keep things professional.
One thing that social media is not—it’s not a place to discuss patients’ personal health information. Even diligent attention to privacy settings can leave doctors vulnerable to HIPAA law violations.
“Patient information … is something that we have to protect and show that we’re protecting properly,” Dr. Mamelak says.
When patients post personal information and ask Dr. Mamelak for medical advice in any public forum, he’ll respond privately and securely and, often, delete the postings.
It’s also important to draw clear boundaries between personal and professional pages. While dermatologists might reveal tidbits about their personal lives on their Facebook and other social media pages, it’s best to keep focus on what’s most important: professionalism and patient privacy.
“Everything you do on Facebook (for business) has to answer the question: what’s in it for my audience?” Arulrajah says.
One of the benefits of social media is it allows you to monitor consumer behavior.
“We call that social listening. We’re trying to understand what our fans are talking about; who fans are; what products they like,” Colon says. “[That way,] we can engage them in a topic that is of interest to them….”
Colon says dermatologists can practice social listening on platforms like Facebook. They can see what people are talking about (or have someone monitor the chatter). They can go on physician rating sites to see what people are saying about their practices. If they subspecialize, in pediatric dermatology, for example, they can monitor discussions on groups attracting young mothers.
Social media benefits
What you get as a dermatologist from continuous postings and engagement might be hard to pinpoint. Many gauge success with increasing numbers of “likes” and followers. Some see more patients as a result of their online presence.
While Dr. Mamelak admits bottom line outcomes from his social media engagement are hard to measure, he is confident that it works to improve numbers of patients and patient satisfaction.
“It shows, in my mind, the visit doesn’t end after they leave the door. If they’re following you on one of your social media sites, you can continue to engage them,” Dr. Mamelak says.
Dr. Mamelak says his social media engagement has helped to make him a better dermatologist and Mohs surgeon. He says he stays on top of important news and studies through social media and has better access to experts when he has questions about patients’ cases.
Montclair, N.J., dermatologist Jeanine B. Downie, M.D., started an extensive social media campaign about three years ago. Dr. Downie says she has realized the potential of the virtual word of mouth with her practice’s increasing volume. Today, Dr. Downie says more than one third of her referrals probably originate online.
“Thankfully, my business is thriving…,”Dr. Downie says.
Colon says he thinks many dermatologists are late to the social media game.
“But their … patients are communicating, engaging, sharing. If you’re not there on some level, then you’re definitely missing out. That may be a practice choice. But if you’re growing your practice or want to grow your practice and are not on social media, then you’re missing a big opportunity, for sure,” Colon says.