In this second of six parts, Etna Interactive explores how the evolution of social media and socially-inspired search engine results will impact medical practices. We look in to the future to forecast three likely implications and suggest strategies you can employ today to stay ahead of the curve.
If you are a longtime subscriber to our newsletter, you know that we have urged medical practices to enter social space carefully. Social media, while rich with opportunity to build patient loyalty and encourage patronage, demands consideration, planning, staff development, policy implementation, and a good deal of time. For many medical practices, demonstrating a near-term investment return can be a challenge. And once you have begun your social marketing strategy there is no easy exit strategy, no easy way to stop talking with your patients.
All of that considered, social media is not going away and there are some compelling new reasons for medical practices to embrace social media.
Our predictions for the future of social media and the medical practice follow:
- 50 years ago housecalls were common and patients had a personal relationship with their healthcare providers. Patients will want to know more about their providers, will want information and reviews from other patients, will desire a personal relationship and more personalized service;
- Practices will learn to leverage social media to educate and support existing patients while at the same time attracting new patients and supporting patient retention; and
- The boundaries of personal and professional will blur, creating increased liability for medical practices and their staff.
One need only consider the proliferation (and proliferating problems) of doctor review sites like ratemds.com, healthgrades.com, vitals.com, angieslist.com and realself.com, Google’s increasing reliance on “social signals” when calculating search engine rankings, and Facebook’s climb past 750 million active users to conclude that medical practices must embrace social media.
So if social media is a given, but resources are still an issue, where do you expend your time and money for greatest effect? Our advice for a solid entry to social space follows.
Embrace Facebook & Blogging
- With more than 750 million active users, a great advertising platform, and ease of entry, Facebook should be your first social media platform
- A blog can give depth and personality to your Web site, and each new blog post can help your search engine rankings while encouraging patient feedback
- Any communication strategy will benefit from planning, staff assignment and training…social media is no exception
Begin to Think Integrated
- Successful communications are integrated across every channel
- Adding a treatment? Celebrating an event? Offering a promotion? Consider how you can share that message in offline ads, in-office communications, public relations, email marketing, on your Web site, and of course in social media
Invest in Training & Set Policy
- While you can get started in social media in minutes, effective execution (and avoiding major headaches) takes training
- Define clear roles and responsibilities and engage your staff
- Set clear policies for patient privacy and social media, and have candid conversations with your staff about ethics (and their employment status) as it relates to their activities in social space
Many of our readers are already knee deep in social media. How would you rate your early efforts? What advice would you share? Speak up on our Facebook page.