August 17, 2011

How To Approach Social Media as a Physician

Last year, I expressed why I bother blogging as a busy surgeon... but this article is more about how to approach social media as a physician.

There are numerous advice on the web how to get individuals and businesses involved in social media. Though much of this generic advice is applicable to surgeons and physicians, there are unique limitations as well as opportunities that apply only to such healthcare professionals.

I've also reached a few conclusions of my own regarding developing an online social media presence through trial and error since 2006 and certainly 2007 when I developed an overall game plan that has been tweaked over and over as I've gained experience.

1) Mission statement... As korny as this sounds, you need to have focus on what you are aiming for in order to develop a coherent strategy to not only create an online presence but to also grow it. Too often, I've come across physician twitter feeds that talk about literally everything under the sun with continuous commentary on everything and everyone. That's fine if your goal is to be the water cooler hang-out guru, but to have impact on the services you provide as a healthcare professional, focus is important. Focus is a two-edged sword however. With focus, your audience becomes small and encompass only those individuals who are interested in the same topic (or in this case, medical conditions you represent)... but their interaction with you and your healthcare business is much higher than an unfocused huge riotous mass of people with multiple dissimilar interests.

So a mission statement can be as simple as "To provide the best commentary on media topics related to ear, nose, and throat."

A secondary mission statement addendum can be "in order to build up my practice's brand name"... 

2) Really, who are we kidding? We all know that the end goal of any social media presence is to market "you" and your medical services.  Just keep in mind that whatever your persona may be in real life will now be represented by a "virtual" persona of you online and this online persona will potentially be the first time a patient interacts with you, even if you do not yet know they exist. Make sure it's a good impression... which increases the likelihood they will actually utilize your services in real life.

3) Create a blog... There are several free ones available... WordPress, Blogspot, Posterous, etc to name a few.

4) Write on a topic that pertains to your practice. It's VERY hard to come up with original material consistently, week after week, year after year. It's great if you can do it, but I'm just letting you all know that it's hard... and even harder when running your clinical practice at the same time.

So at least what I learned over the years is to "cheat"... I gain inspiration from what is published in magazines, newspapers, TV, etc. I than write about these published articles I find... and I criticize or at least evaluate it from a physician-in-the-know's perspective.

This serves several purposes. 

• I don't have to think about what topic I'm going to write about. I let the journalists do that for me. Believe me... it saves time.
• I write what I would have told patients if they brought this article to my attention during an appointment.
• The medical stuff patients are reading about in public is something they might suddenly start searching for... and gee whiz... wouldn't it be great if YOUR blog article on this very topic popped up. The media brings to the forefront of peoples' minds medical issues they want to talk about. What better time to add your voice to a problem you specialize in!

5) Make sure you link to your practice website from your blog article so that patients know how to reach you if they find you.

6) Make sure you have a good practice website to begin with.... It does not matter if you have a great online presence if your practice website stinks. Social media COMPLEMENTS your practice website. It does not replace it. You need both to have an ultimately successful social media presence that brings patients to your office.

7) Write blog articles often... I find the sweet spot to be about 3 per week. If you aren't actively writing, your social media presence will dwindle and fade away. Think of blog articles like growing a flower.

8) Now that you're writing blogs... how to make potential patients notice? The easiest way is to advertise your blog presence on your practice website. The downside with this approach is that if you don't get a lot of traffic to your website, it's going to be slow gaining an audience for your blog. As such, your blog needs help...

That's where FaceBook and Twitter come in which is where all your potential patients seem to hang out nowadays. These additional accounts should feed into your blog. To make less work for yourself, automate the process such that whenever you post a blog, it will automatically update your Twitter and Facebook accounts.

If all goes well, you will slowly build up a following for your social media accounts with correspondingly increased traffic to your website which ultimately leads to patient visits. It takes time so be patient!

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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