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Protecting Your Reputation: Doctors Who Ignore Social Media Are at Risk

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

By Stewart Gandolf, MBA, CEO, Healthcare Success

The Internet and social media presence of a physician is the sum of what most prospective patients know about you and your professional reputation. Here’s the “why-and-how” about using these tools to your marketing advantage.

a good docYou’ve heard at least a dozen reasons why physicians dismiss—or steer a cautious course—when social media meets healthcare. Patient privacy, provider reimbursement, over-taxed schedule…these are all legitimate challenges.

But the fact remains that the Internet is where the first encounter between a doctor and a prospective patient occurs. And ignoring or neglecting social media can put a doctor’s professional reputation at deep risk.

Here are just a few of the reasons why your online reputation is a top concern for medical practitioners, and demands an ongoing, proactive management plan. Quite simply…a ton of people will see and believe what they find (or don’t find) online:

  • 80: percent of Internet users (59% of US adults) seek online health information [iHealthBeat]
  • 47: percent of Internet users search for information about doctors or other health professionals [Pew Research]
  • 38: percent of Internet users search for information about hospitals and other medical facilities [Pew Research]
  • 90: percent of patients consider online review sites such as healthgrades and others [Harris Poll]

What’s more, revenue is tightly linked to reviews and reputation [Harvard Business Review], by influencing the new patient’s decision/selection process, or by swaying referrals that may or may not flow from other professional practices.

Using Digital and Social Media for Visibility and Reputation Management

Here are four tips for physicians to plant their feet squarely in the online world of social media and take a more assertive role in establishing and extending their digital persona and reputation.

Objectively assess your Internet presence as a patient would. First, see for yourself what the public and prospective patients find online about you, your practice and your closest colleagues. A dispassionate summary of what you find online sets the tone for your online reputation. For most of the world, it’s not the content of your multi-page CV…it’s what turns up via the most popular search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Create continuing monitoring tools. Setup Google Alerts and Me on the Web (also Google) to proactively discover new entries as they appear online. Check these routinely, but schedule an in-depth review of your social media and Internet presence at least monthly.

Evaluate the health of your website. Internet technology advances so rapidly that many (if not most) provider websites are out of date in design, function and their ability to engage visitors in a meaningful way. Simply having a static, “brochure-ware” website will not stand up to the competition, will slip lower—and effectively disappear—among search results, and fail to attract new patients.

Reinvent your own website as the foundation of your brand and your reputation. It is a key ingredient in the mix, and because you control the message, it is your single most powerful voice. If you don’t have a blog, consider how to create an interesting and engaging showcase that attracts and retains visitors and builds relationships.

Leverage your online presence. With a compelling website as your digital anchor, each additional social tool magnifies your visibility. The social nature of these platforms is a springboard for connecting with people, building relationships, and inspiring references and referrals. Some options may be more suitable to your needs than others, but consider the most popular platforms first:

  • LinkedIn – The primary location for your credentials and CV information is LinkedIn, a networking site that’s geared to professionals and executives. This format allows you to post articles, videos and news. And uniquely, it reports how often others see your profile or your information turns up in LinkedIn searches. Estimated unique monthly visitors – 110-million.
  • Facebook – With an estimated 750-million unique visitors each month, Facebook is often informal, engaging and educational. The overriding, personalized structure is keyed to sharing worthwhile images and ideas with immediate feedback among readers.
  • Twitter – Although micro-messages are limited to only 140 characters, this fast-moving platform connects people and topics based on common interests. An estimated 250-million unique visitors provides a wide potential audience (and potentially an infinite number of connections).
  • Google Plus – It’s a smart tactic to have the giant of online search engines on your team. This is a platform to present and promote content to and among “circles” with shared interests or connections. Google regards Google+ as adding a “social layer” to online search. There are approximately 525-million registered user accounts.

You are always visible, so control the message. Establishing a robust Internet and social media presence with these and other online options, your message—your brand and reputation—is positioned to be among the top results for relevant search keywords.

Still, the most perfect of doctors will inevitably find an unflattering, incorrect or outright nasty comment. There are a few things you can do about it…

  1. Be the dominant voice. The content that you control and originate presents a strong voice among what’s found in online searches. And the information that you generate and promote is likely to outweigh others and a better reflection of your reputation.
  2.  For a correction or removal. Most sites list their contact information, and some (although not many) provide instructions for updates, corrections or amending comments. It never hurts to ask, but generally, success with such requests is limited.
  3. Submit a response or update. It is often possible to answer an “unpleasant” comment with a response or update. Some publishers are reluctant to remove comments, but will often welcome replies that provide words of balance.
  4. Be factual, professional and understanding…but not argumentative. Any temptation to “fight back” or argue is a guaranteed losing battle and is likely to attract more attention and make things worse. Accept (and fix) legitimate concerns. An understanding tone of voice is more effective.
  5.  Encourage positive patient feedback. When reminded, patients are often receptive to the idea of making comments, providing testimonials or referring friends and family. The key—which is often neglected—is simply to ask patients.

The Internet, social media and healthcare have become permanently intertwined for good reason: People are at the core of this connectivity. Business-savvy providers understand the mutual, patient experience benefits of engaging patients, building relationships, improving compliance and outcomes, and managing your brand message and reputation.

For more on this topic, see: When We Say “Your Brand,” You Should Be Thinking “Professional Reputation.”

This article was written by Healthcare Success at the request of the Houston Medical Times. (link) © Copyright 2013 Healthcare Success, Inc. All rights reserved.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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