With technologies improving at a rapid pace, those that don’t keep up will be left behind. There are many avenues for improved public exposure for your medical practice or healthcare organization and the internet has become the mainstream approach. Connecting multiple social platforms with a hub from your website can help funnel potential new patients directly to your network and from your network to your medical web site. Social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter have assisted many doctors, medical practices and healthcare organizations in improving their exposure to the general public, their markets, and more specifically their patients.
Specialized medical practices, cutting edge technologies and procedures may all be brought to the public’s attention through the proper use of social media. This may be done through direct links to your web site from social network web sites like Facebook, Twitter (a microblogging platform), as well as videos through sites like YouTube (where new procedures may be viewed by those in the medical industry and prospective patients). Although there are both, “pro’s” and “con’s” to the use of social networking sites by the healthcare industry, the pro’s should outweigh the con’s if the overall strategy is implemented properly.
First some “pro’s”:
1) Facebook is the world’s largest social network. It is growing at a meteoric pace with more than 350 million active users as of this writing 12/18/2009. Therefore being in this space and managing your accounts can result in increased brand awareness and traffic to your medical web site. Facebook is an easy-to-use platform for supporting your medical practice or healthcare company identity, and there are several ways you can use it as part of your overall online marketing strategy.
2) IMPORTANT NOTE: Understand the difference between a Facebook PAGE (with public access by those without a Facebook profile or being logged in), Profile Page (for “people” where you control the information that is accessible and you must accept or be accepted by other Facebook users “friends”), and the Facebook Group (users with profiles can create groups that attract other members with common interests to join).
3) Facebook (Twitter or similar) can increase the visibility of your practice or healthcare organization to local social networks, can generate buzz (and traffic back to your web site), and generate new patient referrals.
4) Facebook is a perfect venue to announce promotions, news, and promote pages on your practice or healthcare web site. Remember, social environments like Facebook and Twitter (limited to 140 characters) are web sites where people are considered to be doing “information snacking”. People are in these environments and are “snacking” on information that is typically recommended by their friends. With that, realize that you have an opportunity to catch their attention with a great headline and a link back to your medical web site. From here you are free to continue the story and offer a call-to-action.
5) Lastly and an often overlooked fact, Facebook is technically a free advertising resource that may be utilized for both local, national, and global exposure of your practice/healthcare organization. [UPDATE] Facebook now offers paid ad placement. The benefit or differentiator for Facebook ads verses search engine PPC (Pay Per Click) ads is that Facebook has the ability to better target your ads in Facebook users news stream based on them having A LOT of information about their users and their users preferences.
Now some “con’s”:
6) Time management while utilizing social media such as Facebook can become overwhelming. With a slow ramp up in “Fans”, “Friends” or “Followers”, you may find that there is a high demand on your (staff) time with no indication of a return on that investment. Stick with the strategy of regularly adding to your web site and then announcing your promotions/interests on your social accounts (with web site linkbacks). A take away regarding your perception and management of your medical social network presence is best put by famed marketer Seth Godin in his blog; “It’s a process, not an event.”
7) Your Facebook identity needs to be managed and monitored regularly to ensure it’s current and your reputation is being managed. There is a great opportunity to hear back from your patients /customers. Poor public relations can spread like wildfire across the social web, so there is also a need to have someone responsible for doing damage control and listening to your markets (patients).
8 ) Social networking web sites like Facebook places high demands on your creativity. It can be difficult to constantly come up with innovative and exciting content that will interest a variety of readers. Without relevance and value, your efforts would be wasted. Direct ROI on your efforts in the social media realm can be difficult.
9) While Facebook allows statistical insights for your Fan Page, overall conversions can be difficult do calculate. Therefore you will want to implement tracking of inbound ‘referrer’ traffic to your web site and attempt to garner “how did you find us” information from phone calls and your online form. Creating controlled landing pages for specific promotions can create better environments for more precise data collection.
10) PRIVACY and HIPAA Compliance! When you open up your practice or medical business to social media, your goal is to build a community. A two way conversation between your markets and your medical business or practice. However, the nature of Facebook and its limited privacy means that patients as well as your staff will be communicating in a non-private environment. It is very important to understand, monitor and control your own content for its privacy implications. More dangerous and needing control will be the reach of patient-to-patient identification and communication. Your social network will have patients leaving a public digital footprints of themselves in your network. You, as a medical practitioner, need to understand the degree to which you are protecting the privacy of patient information as well as the degree to which patients may be unaware of the privacy they are exposing when existing and posting information to your networks.
As noted above, the use of social media like Facebook and others can bring many benefits to any practice/healthcare organization with an online presence, but it does come with its fair share of challenges. If you’re considering utilizing Facebook (or others) as part of your medical marketing strategy, have a robust plan in place and a committed staff. With that, you’ll increase your chances for social media success.