“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook, Founder, Intuit
Social media has significantly changed the rules for engaging patients. From Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop enterprises, companies of all shapes and sizes are increasingly harnessing the power of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter to generate discussion and build their brand. Virtually every sector of business, healthcare included, is feeling the impact of social media.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about social media is that there is no rulebook for engaging with one’s followers and growing a network, meaning that users can continually invent and reinvent how they wish to be perceived in the public eye. Perhaps the scariest thing about social media, though, is that there is no rulebook, so missteps and errors can be magnified.
That contrasting dynamic is important to think about when navigating how to implement social media into your practice. Couple that sentiment with the fact that the professional obligation to patients may seem at odds with the need to run a practice as a business, and it can easily seem overwhelming deciding how to get started.
Do I Even Need to Be on Facebook?
Is social media really an essential tool that all doctors should be using to grow their practices?
The answer is yes. It’s become not a question of whether you do social media but how well you do it. By comparison to traditional media, social media is much less expensive and can be powerful for growing a practice through referrals and patient connections.
In the old days, a satisfied patient might tell 2 or 3 friends, which certainly might help gain a referral. Now, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have greatly expanded information sharing, and that happy patient has the potential to reach thousands of known and unknown individuals.
Thankfully, there are several resources available for anyone interested in getting started with the different social media platforms. There are also a growing number of experts who work with healthcare practitioners to help them create brands, craft messages, and manage content. One can easily go it alone or get professional guidance, but it helps to have a basic working knowledge of some important principles.
Below are 3 important things to know about social media:
- Building a brand. Your online brand is how you represent yourself to the world, and as the quote at the top of this article implies, you want people to talk about you to help generate buzz.
Think about how you want patients and potential patients to view your practice. Are you the cutting-edge practice that has the latest advancements in eye care? Are you the fun, community practice where generations of families have been patients?
Write down your brand identity and let that guide your voice.
- Develop a voice. How you talk about yourself and your practice via social media must be appropriate for the patients you are trying to reach.
Remember that anything you repost or share – articles, pictures, tips, etc. – gets associated with you or your practice, so it’s a good idea to carefully vet your content.
- Document, don't create. So many docs ask about what they should be posting. They spend time trying to create the perfect photo or video. But the reality is patients just want to know more about you and the practice.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect content to post. Documenting your day to day activities with your team, sharing patient-centered information from eye care associations, and just wishing people a “Happy Friday” can be quick, easy, and engaging.
Social media is about connecting, and audiences want to get a sense of the personality they are following or engaging with. It is perfectly OK to post “some” personal information and photos if that fits into your brand identity. Although there is no explicit guidance for how frequently to do this, a suggestion is to post one personal item for every five professional posts.
Also, it’s ok to be on more than one platform. The prevailing thought regarding where to focus one’s energy is that LinkedIn is the best way to connect with a professional audience, while Facebook and Twitter are most likely to allow you to speak to patients. Instagram and Snapchat are great for millennials and their eye care needs.
Balance is really the secret ingredient for success with social media. You want to entertain, educate, and engage your patients, but be wary of trying to sell. Post frequently but don’t feel like you need to devote hours each day. Include photography and videos and have fun with it. It may seem overwhelming to get started, but continued effort and a willingness to experiment with different posts are likely to generate impressive results.