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Patient acquisition in the age of social media

‘Tis simple advice: Go to where the patients are.

For the past decade, the Pew Research Center has regularly polled Americans to ask about their use of social media, in what capacities and for what purposes. A 2016 survey of 1,520 adults found nearly 7 out of 10 adults are social media regulars, many visiting myriad platforms, who receive all types of information from these sites, including the news.1

So it should be no surprise that a Health Research Institute survey revealed how much Americans use these sites to acquire information regarding their health care. The survey found that one-third of patients have health discussions on social media, 42% get health reviews and 41% are influenced by social media in their choice of doctors and health-care facilities.2

These figures send a clear message to physicians: The use of social media as a tool to enhance your practice is imperative.

Social media offers physicians ample opportunities to enhance relationships with long-time patients; grow their current patient base by connecting with individuals in various social circles; and positioning themselves as thought leaders among peers and alongside industry.

If you or your practice isn’t on social media, you likely will be left behind: a 2014 survey of 4,000 physicians of all stripes found 65% use social media sites professionally – and that figure is rapidly rising.3

While getting started may seem like a daunting task, if appropriately approached, social media is a straightforward, fruitful way to interact with patients and the public. For effective results, I suggest breaking down your social media efforts into four steps.

1: SET A CLEAR STRATEGY

Social profiles perform best with the support of a solid strategy. First, decide which platforms make sense for you and your practice. To start, I suggest focusing on Facebook and/or Twitter and Instagram. We have found Facebook to be the best platform for general brand awareness and new patient acquisition, Twitter is best when the goal is to be an active thought leader in the health-care industry or to have an industry-leading practice, and Instagram’s visual focus is perfect for highlighting surgical pictures and videos. Of the three, Facebook has the strongest potential to grow your practice, so it is a good place for time-strapped practices to hone in on.

Make sure to set up your social profiles as business pages — that way, you will have access to an expansive dashboard to assist you in optimizing your presence at no extra cost. The dashboard offers analytics to help you understand when, and how often, users interact with your profile and posts (Figure A).

Figure A. A Facebook social media business dashboard. The analytics that accompany a business dashboard can show you which posts are most effective with your audience.

If you choose to develop your social profile on Twitter or Instagram, research industry hashtags, and even venture to create your own. Hashtags in tweets and Instagram posts help drive engagement among your target audience. Take advantage of Instagram’s feature allowing 30 hashtags on each post. For Twitter, I recommend including between three and 10 hashtags in each post. Tools such as Display Purposes (displaypurposes.com ) make it especially easy to use hashtags. As an aside, they are not considered proper etiquette on Facebook.

Once you have chosen and set up your platform, develop your page-posting strategy. How many times per week do you want to post? The experts say that you should be posting once per day on Facebook, once per day on Instagram and as many times as you would like on Twitter. If that is too much work, posting a few times per week on one or all of the platforms will suffice. You and your staff can create a basic digital editorial calendar that includes the content to be posted on each channels on each posting day.

Here are some sample posts to get you started:

  • Show before-and-after results of a treatment or procedure
  • Post a behind the scenes photo of your practice.
  • Share the music playing in the OR that day
  • Post 15-second surgery videos
  • Notify followers of your community activities and post pictures of those events
  • with patient permission
  • Post personal photos of family, weekend activities or your view at a local event like a popular festival
  • Celebrate holidays through acknowledgment (for example, “Happy Mother’s Day to all the hardworking Moms!”).

Finally, consider advertising on your social media platforms, which have very cost-effective options, in comparison to traditional media, with often better results. Make sure to inform yourself of the Facebook and Twitter advertising policies before creating any advertisements. Here’s my favorite short and easy-to-follow video tutorial about how to boost posts on Facebook. https://vimeo.com/241195793

2: MANAGE YOUR ONLINE REPUTATION

To ensure you are assisting in building your own online reputation, you have to monitor three key areas: comments, reviews and outside review platforms such as Google, Yelp and Health Grades. Our team at Pascale has created an easy management protocol that mitigates possible negative interactions and reviews and enables positive comments. First, it is important to respond differently to comments versus reviews. (See Figure B and See the article Learn rules, risks to manage online critics)

Figure B. A sample response protocol detailing the best practices for responding to comments.

#3: ESTABLISH YOURSELF AS AN EXPERT

To raise your professional visibility in your field, you need a social media strategy to establish yourself as an expert. This can help you win the recognition of other leaders in ophthalmology, as well as industry decision-makers.

First, make the most of your conferences, such as AAO and ASCRS. As you network with colleagues face to face and try out innovative technologies, take plenty of photos and selfies and post them to social media. Use conference-provided hashtags to help other attendees find you. Your social media followers will appreciate that you stay on the cutting edge of new technologies and procedures in your practice.

Second, consider nominating yourself or practice for an industry award. These are wonderful achievements to spotlight on social media, and the entities that give out awards typically promote winners through their own social media channels. In addition to gaining you recognition among those in your field, an award offers a vehicle to help you promote your practice among local residents via social media and by displaying your trophy in the waiting room.

Another way to establish yourself as an expert and to gain new patients is to engage with traditional media. For example, with summer quickly approaching, tweet to a local news anchor and ask that she remind viewers to wear UV-protection sunglasses. Ideally, while on-air, the news anchor would say, “I received a tweet from [doctor’s name]. He/she wants to remind us about the importance of wearing UV-protection sunglasses to protect your eyes from sun damage.” This shout-out gains you exposure in the community and presents you as a thought leader. You can get creative with your tips, but make sure they apply to a broad range of people and are simple to follow. This contact could get you on the station’s call list of doctors for health segments, which in turn gives you additional exposure and videos to post.

4: ENLIST EXPERTS WHEN NEEDED

The first three steps in this process are designed to simplify practices’ social media efforts. But not everyone has the time or inclination to effectively employ social media. With social media trends continually changing and best practices being revised on an ongoing basis, our clients find that it’s easiest to leave their social profile growth and management up to the team at Pascale. We created the MD Accelerator platform with the busy doctor in mind. (To learn more, visit www.pascalecommunications.com )

BE PREPARED, GET STARTED

We have found that the use of social media has become as imperative as any other aspect of patient outreach, and just as critical to practice growth. The steps assembled by our team are designed to make that first step a little simpler. Start small. Track your results. Expand when you’re ready. OM

REFERENCES

  1. Greenwood S, Perrin A, Duggan M. Social media update. November 11, 2016. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/ . Accessed Feb. 23, 2018.
  2. Health Research Institute. Social media “likes” healthcare. April 2012. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/health-industries/health-research-institute/publications/pdf/health-care-social-media-report.pdf
  3. Ventola CL. Social media and health care professionals: benefits, Risks, and best practices. Pharmacy & Therapeutics. Volume 39(7); 2014 Jul

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