All you have to do is Google yourself to see that your online footprint exists whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, you have no control over what patients say about you online. However, you do have control over the story you create for yourself via social media.
Your first question might be “why should I care?” The answer to that lies in a few key statistics:
- Facebook now boasts over 1 billion users and the 45-54 year age bracket is their fastest growing demographic (this is also true for Google+). The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55-64 age bracket.
- 41% of people said social media would affect their choice of healthcare provider. (Source: DC Interactive Group)
- Nearly 42% of consumers use social media to look up reviews for health providers, treatments, and products. (Source: DC Interactive Group)
Three Ways to Control the Conversation Online
One of the benefits of having social media profiles is that when someone Googles your practice, you can essentially own the top search results. For example, if you rank for your website, Facebook page and Twitter page then you now control the conversation for the top three search result spots which receive the majority of clicks on Google. In contrast, if Healthgrades ranks in the top three results for your practice name then there’s a higher chance patients will go to this site to share comments/complaints. Here are three ways you can control the conversation online:
- Have a strong social media presence: The social media profiles that are most likely to help you rank well in Google for your brand name (i.e. practice name) are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube. The reasons these social media sites rank high is because Google includes them in their ranking algorithm, mainly due to their popularity. Having these profiles will help you monopolize the top search results for your name and therefore increase the possibility patients will converse on one of these sites that you control.
- Monitor your profiles and respond quickly to negative comments: When you have several social media accounts, monitoring activity can be overwhelming. Tools like Hootsuite allows you to make one post across all your social media channels, as well as monitor all your accounts in one place. Google Alerts is a free tool that gives you the ability to monitor all conversations online about you. You simply set alerts for specific search criteria, such as your practice name (be sure to put your practice name in quotations so it’s an exact search), and Google will send you daily or weekly emails with updates on what people are saying about you online. These monitoring tools will allow you to identify negative comments quickly and respond in a timely manner; patients will be more impressed by the fact that you responded with good customer service rather than the fact that you had a negative complaint to begin with. You can’t avoid negative feedback online, but you can control how you respond. Timely, professional responses lead to a more positive reputation for your practice.
- Lead the conversation with quality content: If you are going to participate in social media then it’s important to engage users with fresh, meaningful content. Social media is cluttered with information from sources that patients distrust. Who patients really want to hear from regarding the latest study on how to protect from the flu this season, is their doctor. Depending on your specialty, you may be lucky to spend 15 minutes with a patient. Social media extends the conversation and interaction you have with patients outside the exam room. Take advantage of this opportunity to stay top of mind with patients by educating them on how to stay healthy and even on services they may not realize you offer.
Please keep in mind that social media is not for everyone and may not benefit every practice in a similar manner. It requires time, resources and consistency. For this reason, many practices have elected to hire outside agencies to manage their social media accounts for them. Whether you hire an outside agency or train an internal staff member to do it (be cautious about who you choose – the young front desk girl may not understand your marketing strategy or HIPAA guidelines), social media offers a unique opportunity for you to control the conversation online and grow your digital footprint.
Amanda Kanaan is the president and founder of WhiteCoat – a medical marketing agency offering website design, internet marketing, social media, branding and physician liaison services. To contact Amanda with additional questions regarding social media, please visit www.whitecoatmedicalmarketing.com.