As the Internet has become the medium of choice for researching health information, social media has become an important part of how your medical practice gets found online. In today’s social media-connected, content marketing rich environment, doctors who are not using social media as part of their marketing strategy are missing out. This article will give you an overview of why and how you should brand and market your practice online, along with examples of those physicians who are leading the way with social media marketing.
But first, what exactly does “branding” mean?
Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers. (Business Dictionary.com)
There are many elements which make your brand more readily identifiable, ranging from tangibles like your logo, tagline and promotional materials to the more intangible – how telephone calls are answered in your practice and how you are perceived by your patients. Doctors position themselves in the healthcare market by speciality, but also by the quality of their work, their reputation, and as an acknowledged expert on specific medical conditions.
Identify and define your brand
Properly identifying your brand means you will be able to define your offering and market your communications more effectively to your patient (and prospective patient) base. Ask yourself the following questions to help you define your brand more clearly.
- What can patients find with you that they won’t find with another doctor?
- What are your strengths when it comes to patient care?
- What aspect of medicine do you most enjoy?
- Do you have knowledge of a hobby or special interest which patients would benefit from your expertise on?
Promote your brand with social media
Health topics are one of the most searched terms on the internet and it’s becoming increasingly important for doctors to get involved in the online discussion. Engagement with social media networking sites provides you with a unique opportunity to position and market your brand, add value, and differentiate your practice from your competitors. It also helps attract new patients, build existing patient loyalty and opens up new opportunities outside of your practice.
Social media gives you the tools to find where your patients are meeting online, build relationships with them, and establish yourself as an expert in your field. Many of your existing patients are already online, and regular communication with them will help cement your relationship. Remember that unlike traditional forms of advertising, social media marketing is about talking with, not to your audience; it is about adding value to the conversation. Healthcare organizations whose strategy is to simply post information (for instance on a static web page) are missing out on the true essence of social media, i.e. two-way communication.
Opportunities to brand your medical practice are plentiful online. There are support and community groups for just about any medical condition or interest. To further expand their reach and focus on patient care, these groups need the input of qualified clinicians to help validate the information discussed on their sites and to ensure balanced views that are in the best interest of patients. Participating in these communities by providing advice, educational podcasts, guest contributions to widely read blogs and websites can help you broadcast your brand and build your reputation, while providing valuable support to the group.
Establishing and maintaining an online presence will keep your brand to the fore of people’s minds – not just your patients, but your peers. It is a great way to build positive exposure and credibility for your brand and to create what marketers refer to as “top-of-mind awareness.” Adding more touchpoints with your patients and prospective patients through social media helps create this top of mind awareness.
Maintaining brand integrity and monitoring your online reputation
Consistency, credibility, and connection are the cornestones of maintaining your healthcare brand’s integrity. Once you have a clear vision of what your brand is about, the key to establishing and maintaining it is being consistent and credible across all on and off line platforms you connect on. It is also important to listen to what is being said about your brand, not just to know what is going on and whether you are receiving any negative publicity or comments that need to be addressed, but also to know what you are doing right, so that you can do more of it. At a minimum keep an eye on tweets, comments and messages on your Twitter, blog and Facebook accounts. You should also set up google alerts for your name, your practice and your partners.
Physicians leading the way online
There are many examples of physicians with successful online brands. One of the best known is Kevin Pho, MD, an internist from Nashua, N.H., who started his KevinMD blog in 2004. Eight years later KevinMD is one of the most popular medical blogs online and has gained Dr Pho national and international attention as an opinion maker. He is frequently asked to contribute to print and TV discussions and is a regular speaker at conferences around the world.
Howard Luks, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Hawthorne, N.Y., who consults on digital media and medicine issues, champions healthcare social media and is unequivocal in his assertion that “to ignore the intersection between healthcare and social media is to potentially igonor our own relevance as a health care practitioner”.
Deanna Attai, MD, has focused her career exclusively on the care of patients with benign and malignant breast conditions. She provides advice to breast cancer communities on blogs, Twitter and Facebook platforms and is one of the founders of #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media), a regular online gathering on Twitter. Through her effective use of social media, Dr Attai has humanised her practice and become a credible and trustworthy source of advice and support to the breast cancer community, which has a very active and vocal presence online.
There’s no question that social media is growing in importance in the healthcare field and it is no longer an optional marketing strategy. Access to health information online is empowering patients and forcing medicine to become part of a more consumer driven market. For doctors to distinguish themselves from each other, they must respond to a digital society which now demands transparency and engagement. Joining in the online health conversation gives your patients a sense of belonging and emotional connection; it positions you as an expert in your field, helps you stand out from your peers, and inspires your staff. Word of mouth is the most valuable form of referral you can get and social media can harness this power and spread its reach in a way that traditional advertising cannot.
Finally, don’t think because you don’t appear online doesn’t mean you aren’t being talked about. With the advent of patient review sites, and online discussion forums, you risk leaving your brand reputation in the hands of others. The conversation is happening online with or without you, so for the sake of your healthcare brand, join it!