Social media and the independent healthcare practice: Are social media tactics and efforts right for your practice?

“We have to be on Facebook—like right now! (Don’t we?)”

In meetings with both current and prospective healthcare clients, the subject of social media inevitably comes up: “Do you think we should be on social media? Do we need a Facebook page or Twitter account?”

No matter the practice or specialty, our answer is always the same: “It depends!”

The longer answer

Many people feel that having a social media presence is mandatory for their practice. Realistically, there are a few practical questions that need to be answered. The first relate directly to your practice specialty and its type and frequency of patient interaction.

How often do your providers see their patients, and why? This can directly affect any social media plan. Patient populations that are being treated for an ongoing condition like allergies or diabetes could benefit from tips, advice or links to outside resources to educate and support them between visits. One of our clients, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, shares pollen counts and forecasts during allergy season via Twitter and Facebook. This helps in their treatment plan, and builds loyalty and potential referrals to friends and family.

By contrast, if patient interaction is more “one-and-done” in nature (think emergency surgery), there may be no compelling reason for an ongoing dialog in social media channels.  You could find your practice in the position of struggling to find something to say, then wondering if anyone is listening.

Does your practice offer ancillary services? Showcasing these highly-profitable offerings on social media is a friendly way to make existing and potential patients aware of additional services or products they may find beneficial.

Does your staff take part in cancer walks, or run in 10Ks, collect and donate school supplies, or speak to students about the importance of exercise or proper nutrition? Another strong argument in favor of social media is to utilize it as a forum to share your staff’s community involvement and outreach. A few photos and a line or two about the experience would be perfect on Facebook or Instagram.

Our Social Media Prescription:

Planning is always a key to success. For any social media presence to grow and flourish, it needs proper care and feeding. Content needs to be developed and shared on a consistent basis to gain and hold the attention of your audience. Comments must be acknowledged and opportunities for positive dialog must be cultivated.

  • Develop editorial calendar
    • identify topics of interest for your audience and designate who will be responsible for gathering information and/or writing the content
    • plan ahead to share practice involvement with health fairs or community events, or providers appearing on television news, or as panelists on NPR, etc.
  • Develop a policy on dealing with critical posts or comments from outside your practice. The potential for dialog in social media is a double-edge sword. Followers like the idea of accessibility and immediacy that social media provides, but your practice must protect against unreasonable or vitriolic attacks.
  • Make sure that multiple people — inside and/or outside of your practice — are monitoring your social media channels.

Execution is key

Second to having a plan is having dedicated resources to implement that plan. Do you have someone within the walls of your organization that can take the lead in your social media efforts? Does he or she have strong writing skills? Can he or she strike the proper tone and personality that best represent your practice in the social media space? Is he or she responsive and diplomatic when confronted by a criticism or complaint?  Do you need outside help to assist your staff?  These are important executional questions that need to be answered as well.