Simple, personalized approach to social media is best

May 1, 2011

Succeeding in social media requires focusing on high-impact outlets, investing time and conveying a personal touch. Unlike word-of-mouth, today's social media allow people to connect with others outside of their traditional social circle without constraints of time or space.

Key Points

San Diego - Succeeding in social media requires focusing on high-impact outlets, investing time and conveying a personal touch.

"People are already talking about you online. So you can either join in on that conversation or not," says Jeffrey Benabio, M.D., a dermatologist with Kaiser Permanente and a voluntary assistant clinical professor of medicine, University of California, San Diego.

Unlike word-of-mouth, which he calls "the original social media," today's social media allow people to connect with others outside of their traditional social circle without constraints of time or space, Dr. Benabio says. Moreover, he says while the Internet initially pushed content in one direction, tools such as blogs, Facebook and podcasts allow virtually anyone to produce and distribute content. This makes for a more collaborative experience that can "pull" an audience to one's content, he says.

Media and medicine

Social media matter in medicine because Google alone receives more than three billion queries daily, says Dr. Benabio. "And 75 to 80 percent of U.S. adult Internet users have searched for health information online." He adds, however, "You can only control the content you create."

The specialty of dermatology in particular needs social media to compete with other physicians and nonphysicians who are "usurping our role as providers of health information," Dr. Benabio says. For example, alternative health providers are using social media to build relationships and trust with patients. And just as patients who cannot access a dermatologist's care will choose a nurse or naturopath instead, he says, patients online will seek information from nonphysicians if they can't readily get this information from you.

"The more comfortable people are with nonphysicians, the harder it will be for us to fight nonphysicians' expansion of their scope of practice," Dr. Benabio says. Dermatologists need to expand their presence online because "this is a critical time when we're trying to demonstrate our value as practitioners."

This requires connecting with both peers and patients, he says. In the latter area, "You can make a postsurgical wound follow-up video explaining to patients what you want them to do and direct them toward it when they leave your office. Tell them, 'When you go home tonight, go to YouTube and watch my video,'" Dr. Benabio says.

With a treatment such as Efudex (fluorouracil, Valeant) for actinic keratoses, "You can save yourself a lot of phone calls if you explain in a 30-second video what to expect," he says. "Patients tend to forget" what they're told in the office. "Not only that, but someone else could see your video and say, 'There's a nice dermatologist who knows what he's talking about. Where is his office?'"