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7 social media tips for physicians

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Male doctor showing a brain scan to colleagues.

80% of people on social media are searching for health information, and roughly half of these individuals are looking for information about a particular healthcare professional. This means that social media can be a powerful reputation management tool for physicians, helping you establish your credibility and build your practice. However, to reap these benefits—and avoid the pitfalls of a bad online image—you need to know how to use social media correctly.

Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of social media:

1. Identify your audience

Part of knowing your audience is knowing which social media platforms they prefer to use. As such, you should survey your patients and find out which platform you should be using to reach them.

The adage “You can’t be all things to all people” is true. So, don’t make the mistake of posting bland, non-targeted information in hopes of appealing to the broadest group of viewers. Instead, find out who your target audience is and what they want to see.

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The best way to go about this is to study who your patients are. What are their demographics? Talk with them about what kind of things they would like to see you share online. Your patients will be flattered that you came to them, and you will garner a treasure trove of actionable data.

2. Consistently engage with your followers

Being actively engaged with your followers will help your audience learn more about you and encourage them to trust you over another doctor. This means you’ll have to commit to posting on a regular schedule and quickly responding to questions, reviews, and comments. If your schedule does not allow for this kind of sustained effort, then you should consider appointing someone to help you manage your accounts.

“While it is paramount for healthcare organizations to provide quality care, they must also focus on building a strong online presence … It’s what today’s patients expect.”—Andrei Zimiles, CEO of Doctor.com. 

While you obviously can’t answer every single question people ask you on social media, you should take the time to answer as many as possible, especially ones that might address common concerns. (However, you need to be careful not to break HIPAA rules by revealing any patient health information when doing so.) If a question is too involved to answer directly, you could respond with a link to an article on the topic—preferably one that you wrote. 

Make sure you also start conversations. One way is to ask questions, like “who is your favorite nurse?”

3. Ignore the haters

While you’re interacting with others on social media, you are bound to run into some unpleasant people. In fact, just being a healthcare professional can make you a target for abuse.

But just like in high school, being a science nerd can make you the victim of bullying. Anti-vaccine and anti-circumcision groups (aka the social media mafia) have used various fear tactics to try and silence pediatricians from speaking out for years.”—Amanda Krupa, MSc, an independent health communications consultant and former Editor of HealthyChildren.org at the American Academy of Pediatrics

The best strategy is to not engage. No matter how offensive or abusive the person is, don’t take the bait and respond. Just block the user and report his or her activity to the platform. 

This way, you’ll avoid getting drawn into an online fight that you can’t possibly win. Plus, arguing with someone on the internet will only end up linking the fight to your name when someone googles you.

4. Be human

It’s important to sound like a human being—not a brand—because people don’t trust brand messaging. In fact, 90% of individuals choose a business based on how authentic it is. 

See your online reputation the way your patients do. Get your free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Therefore, don’t hesitate to thank people for their kind comments, mention that an idea was a smart one, or tell someone his or her joke made you laugh. These kinds of human interactions are the reason people are on social media in the first place. 

However, there’s such a thing as being too personal; you don’t want to post family photos on your practice’s Facebook Wall, for example. But, allowing your personality to shine in your social media campaign will both put patients at ease and help you develop an online reputation as somebody who cares.

“Focusing on positive content, uplifting others, exchanging ideas with colleagues, educating patients, and exploring gratitude have taught me a great deal about using social media for positive effect. Information shared and discussions had on social media with colleagues have definitely impacted my patient care.”—Charmaine Gregory, M.D., emergency medicine 

5. Position yourself as an authority in your field

Prospective patients are looking for a physician who is an expert in his or her field. Therefore, to increase your client base, you need to prove your bona fides online. 

There are many ways to do this, including:

  • Contributing to online conversations about topics in your field
  • Posting your research or articles you have written
  • Following and engaging with other thought leaders
  • Joining online industry groups
  • Retweeting expert content from trusted organizations like the WHO or the CDC

Becoming a thought leader will not only earn potential patients’ trust, but it will also help you build your professional network, increase your visibility online, and help you differentiate yourself from your competition. 

6. Post quality content

Creating your own content is a great opportunity to connect with your target audience. However, you can’t just post any kind of content and expect people to be able to find it. To rank highly in the search results—and thus be more visible to searchers—you need to create content that Google thinks searchers are looking for. 

Are online reputation issues hurting your practice? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Google refers to websites that contain health-related content as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites. This is because the information on these pages can affect a person’s physical well-being. As such, Google holds these sites to stricter standards of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) than non-YMYL sites.

To achieve higher EAT and get Google to recommend your content to searchers, you should:

  • Create content that will benefit your audience. 
  • Use correct grammar and verify that all content is free of spelling errors and typos.
  • List your credentials and relevant experience on every healthcare article you post.
  • Prominently feature your contact information on your posts.
  • Ensure your website is up to date and uses HTTPS encryption.

According to Google, quality content teaches or informs; it answers the question that a searcher is asking. What people don’t want to see is content that is obviously trying to sell something. Consequently, anything that sounds too much like corporate messaging won’t rank very well.

Another component of quality content is that it holds the viewer’s interest. To do so, it needs to be understandable (i.e., uses simple words, has an easily readable layout, and employs lots of visuals) and compelling. After all, if your content is boring, then people won’t read it. 

“I try to use social media to teach my readers about issues that will resonate with them and perhaps will help them, whether it’s drug abuse, end of life care, or aging veterans.”—Louis Profeta, M.D., emergency physician  

7. Showcase testimonials and other user-generated content

Another focus of your social media strategy should be to highlight patient testimonials, reviews, photos, videos, and other forms of user-generated content (UGC). Consumers trust this type of content the most because it serves as social proof of your kindness and competence. 

See your online reputation the way your patients do. Get your free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

It’s especially important to post patient reviews and testimonials, as nearly 60% of consumers have chosen one healthcare provider over another due to a provider’s strong online reputation. It’s also a good idea to create a hashtag for your practice and encourage your patients to use it on their social media posts.

To find things to share, you have two options: You can monitor the Web for any posts that contain positive mentions of you or your practice, or you can ask your patients to share their thoughts. Luckily, most people are happy to provide this type of content. All you need to do is ask them. In fact, research from Stackla shows that 65% of people would be OK with posting about a healthcare experience.

One easy way to generate content is to host a photo contest, like the one below, to encourage patients to send in pictures.

Note: Before posting user-generated content, be sure to check first to see whether the person who created it is comfortable with you sharing it.

For more information

If you need more advice on how to take advantage of social media to create an impressive online image, give us a call for a free, no-obligation consultation. We are happy to advise you on the best ways to manage your unique situation.

We also offer a variety of self-help articles on branding and social media: