How to Use Social Media in Your Practice

Grow your practice by telling better stories

By Glenn Sabin

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The following is excerpted with permission from the e-book Grow Your Integrative Medicine Business by Telling Bigger Stories by Glenn Sabin.
 
More integrative medicine professionals than ever are using social media sites like LinkedIn for globe-spanning peer-to-peer connection allowing for productive, creative idea sharing. The use of crowdsourcing by medical specialists discussing challenging patient cases is growing. Facebook has over 1 billion monthly users. Twitter transmits over 400 million tweets every day.
 
According to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, nearly 80 percent of Internet users go online for answers to health questions.
 
Social media now plays a significant role in consumer health education. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute (HRI) reports that “one third of consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and online forums for health-related matters, including seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms, and broadcasting how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.”
 
It’s hard to ignore this explosive growth, but astonishingly, most integrative medicine centers have not yet jumped on the social media train to engage current and prospective patients (customers). The following offers general guidance to integrative health providers interested in creating a foundational, legally sound, social media (aka social business) strategy.
 
Social media includes myriad platforms and channels. Here is the basic mix:
  • Website & Blogging/Micro Blogging (Twitter)
  • Social Networks (Facebook, Google+, 100’s of others)
  • Social Bookmarking (Digg, Delicious)
  • e-Newsletters/e-Blasts
  • Photo Sharing (Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram)
  • Video Sharing: (YouTube, Vimeo)
  • Public Comments on Websites
 

Legal Exposure and HIPPA Concerns

Let’s get these important issues out of the way first. To properly and responsibly utilize social media to engage current and prospective customers you need to closely adhere to a few basic precepts:
  • Include a medical disclaimer
  • Do not offer specific, individualized medical advice
  • Never include actual full patient names, even in response to input or questions
  • Monitor your social platforms regularly for offensive behavior and remove inappropriate comments
Important: If your organization has established social media guidelines, review them carefully in the context of this section.
 
It’s remarkable how many integrative health websites fail to include a basic medical disclaimer. This vital SOP (standard operating procedure) should be followed in every applicable social media outpost. Here’s a very basic disclaimer used on FON Thereapeutics' site:
 
“All information contained on this website is intended for informational and educational purposes only, and is neither intended nor suited to be a replacement or substitute for professional medical treatment nor for professional medical advice relative to a specific medical question or condition.”
 
And while you’re at it, make sure you have a solid privacy notice and clear terms of use language (check out other medical web sites for ideas).
 
Never use social media to provide specific medical advice to patients. Communicate about specific conditions in general terms. Patients and prospects wanting specific medical advice should be encouraged to make a clinic appointment. This is a responsible, appropriate way to convert local prospects to patients.
 
Patient privacy must be maintained in all communications. Do not disclose information that may be used to reveal patient identity or their specific health concerns. Remember that even by changing a name, the patient, family, friend, colleague or employer may still be able to identify the specific person.
 
Don't let the tools and platforms bog things down and get in the way of the work that needs doing.
 
The HITECH Act that promised economic incentives to providers for implementing electronic health records (EHRs), simultaneously increased civil monetary penalties for unauthorized release of protected health information. A major focus for this funding was aimed squarely at security breaches through social media, further proof of its exponential growth. Providers who ignore HIPAA laws when engaging in social media strategy do so at their own peril. Simply follow these rules and you are golden.
 

Social Business is Good Business for Integrative Medicine

Implemented responsibly and effectively, social media focuses on three important areas:
  • Informing. Via the consistent delivery of useful information.
  • Engaging. Via regular interaction with consumers and organizations sharing an affinity and interest for advancing integrative healthcare.
  • Listening. By discovering what your current and prospective patients are saying about your center—and acting on this information to ensure quick and exceptional customer service.
 
These are the primary pillars of social business. Social media allows organizations to engage directly with current and prospective patients, effectively cutting out the middle man (traditional media). By sharing and discussing relevant, useful information about your area(s) of expertise, you establish thought leadership in your community, while gaining greater rapport and trust. Meaningful engagement drives business.
 
By listening to what others are saying—both good and bad—about your center on social media pages and via searches, you will learn how to improve your business by elevating the quality of your customer service.
 
Start by setting up a Google Alerts “listening post.” Simply enter up to 10 search terms and how often you would like an alert delivered to your inbox. Start with the name of your center and an individual practitioner’s name. Then, focus on more general keyword terms related to your local area and core services provided, such as “chelation therapy Nashville,” or “integrative medicine Nashville.” Then set Alerts for your main competitors. Google will capture search results across the web. Knowledge is power, especially when acted upon.
 
Can you really grow patient volume with a smart social media strategy? Absolutely. But it takes time and commitment to earn big dividends. First and foremost, social media is about the engagement process through sharing relevant and useful information. This helps establish trust around your brand. You need to “give” (provide something useful) at least 10–15 times for every “ask” (eg, pitching a sale, special offer, or other deal). If your current social media presence primarily consists of “selling” integrative services and heavily promoting your center, then you are going about it all wrong. Save that for interruptive print ads and radio spots. Social media is for educating, engaging, and storytelling ... all forms of discreet, tactful selling.
 

Setting Goals

You need to set realistic goals. You aren’t going to get 100,000 Facebook “likes” or 200,000 Twitter “followers” overnight. That is, unless Justin Bieber is blogging as part of your social media posse. Regardless, the sheer volume of likes and followers should not be the end-all metric by which success is measured. Qualitative engagement beats quantitative connections every time.
 

Focus on Your Hub

Your hub is composed of your website, blog, and newsletter. You own and control these. They cannot be taken away from you; the rules cannot be easily changed. However, this is not the case regarding the myriad social networks and media outposts where you have the “option” of maintaining a presence. Remember, unless your last name is Zuckerberg, you are simply renting—usually at no charge—space on a given social network platform. Although you can do some level of transactional business from social channels, your primary goal should be getting prospects to your website to take a deeper look at your brand (center) and to take action, like signing up for your blog, RSS feeds, and newsletter.
 

Choose Your Outposts Wisely

You don’t have to be everywhere! Choose carefully. Identify and target where your patients and prospects spend most of their time online. Typically, three good places to start are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And remember, a portion of your customers and prospects still prefer to consume their content the old fashion way: print—ink on paper.
 

Assign Ownership

Designate one person within your organization as manager of your social media program. A modest upstart program, once implemented, can be managed in as little as 60 minutes per day—30 minutes in the morning and evening.
 
This daily 60-minute investment can include the basic social media activities—following, liking, and linking new people and organizations; sharing new content; answering questions and starting new conversations; and, importantly, monitoring your social platform for inappropriate activity.
 
For smaller clinics, the assigned social media manager, might grow into the role of main content assigner, organizer and tracker even while handling their other office duties.
 

No Content, No Social Media

Content is king for growing integrative medicine services. The strategic creation and consistent dissemination of useful, relevant content creates engagement and builds trust around your brand. It starts with your hub—website, blog, and e-newsletter—and from there populates your social media platforms. Over time, your hub and its growing base of original content allows for the creation of longer form writings (eg, e-books, guides), short-form videos, and experiential educational programming—all aimed at growing clinic utilization.
 

One Step at a Time

There are plenty of sophisticated social media measuring tools and endless apps and widgets to consider. The sky’s the limit for building out a leading-edge social platform presence. This e-book touches on the very basics. Creating original content and a smart dissemination strategy is not simple. It takes time to master. Thankfully, in a field as rich and vibrant as integrative medicine, there are plenty of interesting topics to fill even a 20-year editorial calendar!
 
Don’t let the tools and platforms bog things down and get in the way of the work that needs doing. There will be time to revisit new social media opportunities, apps, and platforms when you’re ready.
 
Creating a smart social media strategy is imperative. Understanding your unique center’s goals is essential. Develop your social media program in easily executable phases. But do start! Over the long term, if done correctly, social media will be become a vital part of your business’s sustainable marketing mix—allowing you to tell bigger stories and build trust around your brand.
 
Click here to download the e-book, Grow Your Integrative Medicine Business by Telling Bigger Stories by Glenn Sabin
 
 

About the Author

Glenn Sabin is a veteran marketing and business development executive who for over 2 decades led an award-winning media and content marketing firm in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Click here to learn about Glenn’s passion for evidenced-based integrative medicine and his forthcoming book N-of-1: How One Man’s Triumph Over Terminal Cancer is Changing the Medical Establishment.

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