Remember when the necessity of a website for medical practice was something of a debate; especially for smaller private practices with tight budgets and limited staff support? The funny thing is that those were the practices that stood to benefit the most, and now days that’s understood, accepted and utilized - no question.
Social media is sometimes thought of as the next step in digital marketing and one that smaller practices are sometimes hesitant to take. Without having the benefit of a legal department handing down a policy, it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about potential risk and liability. Like a website, social media marketing has become a necessary component of a well-balanced marketing plan.
The good news is, if your practice is a late adopter of social media marketing, you have one advantage over practices that jumped on the bandwagon early on when it was still the Wild West of marketing. That’s the advantage of letting all the early guys make the mistakes and wrestle their way sloppily through developing best practices. No doubt many early adopters made their fair share of mistakes along the way, but if they stuck with it, they have also likely built up followings and learned how to provide consistent, reliable content that patients enjoy and look to for relevant information.
Whether you’re a late adopter finally ready to dive in to social media marketing or a practice with a well-established social media presence, there are plenty of data-driven guidelines, best practices and getting-started information available now. You can find credible resources on subjects like developing your first social media campaign, where to get content and which social media channels work best for different types of marketing. Below are ten social media “manners” tips - basic online social media behavioral habits - that newbies can use to guide their policies and seasoned social media marketers can use to review their existing social media marketing practices.
- Keep it positive. No matter how antagonistic a patient might get on line, you lose the game as soon as you snap back with justification, accusations or denial. Instead, take it offline (see next bullet) while keeping it positive by expressing your commitment to the patient experience and a hope to find a solution (even if you’re raging mad on the inside). Your bigger concern is all the other eyeballs watching the exchange, and diffusing the negativity - not winning an online argument. The same goes for commenting on any current event. You may hate something your local hospital is doing or a major employer in your community, but there are ways to be authentic while shining bright. One way to accomplish this is by expressing your desired outcome such as “Despite this change, we hope that effected families will be able to…” or “Hoping all our first responders come home safely. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.” Be sincere and honest while keeping it positive.
- Take it offline. When a person wants to start an argument or post accusations online, it’s usually to try to damage your reputation. The way you avoid that is simply by expressing your regret that they FEEL that way, your commitment to the patient experience and healthcare excellence, and asking them to contact you directly so you can discuss a solution. You have no idea how many eyes are watching your exchange. Online comments can live on for years, don’t take the bait. Stay calm and continue to request that they contact you directly, which positions you as the peacemaker. Be sure to make good on your offer and let staff know exactly who this person is and that you are to be notified if they call. Resolving the issue offline quickly, if possible, is the best solution to diffuse their emotion and prevent further damage.
- Maintain confidentiality at all times. It should go without saying, but never ever refer to a patient or a specific case when it could possibly be identified. Years later you might say “I once saw a case of...” but not referring to the place, how long ago, etc., protects you and your patient. Liability is very real and years ago ER doctors got themselves in hot water for posting crazy x-rays of patients on their personal social media accounts. Always maintain the utmost respect and confidentiality for your patients. Respect goes both ways; be worthy of theirs.
- Remain neutral. When politics are blazing hot, current events are getting people riled up or medical debates are front and center, remain supportive, neutral and positive whenever possible. Your patients will look to you for a balanced opinion and recommendation on topics related to your expertise. Don't withhold it, but always present the risks/benefit, pros/cons. Respectfully acknowledge that patients must make their own health decisions. you are there to partner with them not impose your values.
- Stick to your expertise. Always defer to the experts on topics patients shouldn’t look to you for answers about. Keep your medical recommendations within your field as much as possible. Physicians sometimes get a bad rap for arrogance, by deferring to other experts you debunk that preconceived notion, look classy and humble. Talk about what you know best!
- Be loyal to your community. You may be a fan of your college football team or pine to move back “home,” but endearing yourself to your community will make you feel good and has a great ROI. Give a shout out when a local high school makes it to the playoffs; notice local heroes and stand out volunteers. Give to local causes and participate in local events (with your staff, wearing your practice tees) - photos and captions of these make great social media posts!
- It’s actually all about “others.” The fastest way to a sure social media death is to talk about yourself and the practice constantly. We can all relate to being stuck with that person who talks only about himself through an entire dinner date, why do the same to your hard-earned social media followers? Always consider what is on the minds of your patients and try to be a resource of good, relevant information. They aren’t following you to hear constant ads, pitches and promos. One way to gauge this is by paying attention to patient questions and concerns that arise in the office. In other words, what’s on patients’ minds? It could be a seasonal issue, a public health issue, or a specific concern related to your target demographic.
- A picture is better than a thousand words. Our society has become fast-paced and visual. Video and photo communication have become the fastest, most preferred way of communicating. Patients get information quickly and marketers capture the attention of their audiences. Use photos and video in appropriate ways to educate, welcome and express good will to your community and patients through your social media platforms. A campaign that is all text will bore followers, be shared less often, and could result in a reduction of followers, which defeats the purpose of your efforts.
- Make it personal, sometimes. If the voice of your social media is an individual person, such as a physician’s blog, it’s very endearing for readers to hear tidbits of your personal life. This can warm readers to the human side of a provider but can be done while maintaining your privacy. An example would be referencing the emotions you feel on your son’s first day of kindergarten, without naming your son or his school. With a little tongue-in-cheek, you can offer a proverbial “shoulder to cry on” with other parents who are seeing their kids off to milestones of growing up from preschool to college.
- Don’t ignore the obvious. You’ll look out of touch by ignoring current events that everyone is effected by or talking about. So long as you can stay within the above guidelines, it’s a good thing to talk about what people are concerned about. An example would be a nearby fire that is spreading, a medical outbreak, or a violent attack in the news. Express support for those affected and offer assistance when you can.
If you’re just starting out, it would be wise to follow a few colleagues in your specialty whose social media strategies you respect. This will boost your social media marketing IQ and provide something to aim for. Keep these ten tips nearby as you develop your practice policy on social media. In addition to avoiding pitfalls, they will help you stay relevant and positive with online communication while giving your practice a glowing social media presence and reputation.
Additional resources for using social media marketing for your dermatology practice:
Why is it social media important for my dermatology practice? http://dermatologytimes.modernmedicine.com/dermatology-times/news/why-social-media-important-dermatology
What are the benefits and rewards of using social media? http://dermatologytimes.modernmedicine.com/dermatology-times/content/tags/blogging/how-social-media-can-benefit-your-practice
Understanding and avoiding the risks of social media marketingyou're your dermatology practice
Understanding the importance of content in social media: http://dermatologytimes.modernmedicine.com/dermatology-times/news/content-drives-social-media
How to get started: http://dermatologytimes.modernmedicine.com/dermatology-times/news/how-launch-succesful-social-media-campaign