Article

Demystifying social media

Answers to the most common questions regarding ophthalmic practices’ social media efforts.

Based on a RealSelf.com 2015 survey of more than 700 elective surgery patients about social media, HuffPost ran a story titled, “Study Finds Nonsocial Doctors Are Terribly Outdated.” While 92% of these patients say they expected their surgeon to be at least “somewhat engaged” on social media, that’s not the full story for ophthalmic professionals.

A deeper dive into the RealSelf data highlights two salient truths. Patients’ responses were loud and clear — 66% of those surveyed said that they would not “like” their doctor on Facebook. And more than 70% of patients rated the top social media networks as “not at all important” or “not very important” in their procedure research.

The study likely raises more questions for you than it answers. As a practice leader, how do you reconcile the idea that patients simultaneously expect you to be active on social media while holding no intention of making a formal social media connection? You’re likely wondering whether and where social media fits into your marketing and communications program.

DOES MY PRACTICE HAVE TO BE ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

In a word, no. Plenty of practices grow and thrive with little to no presence on social media. Success with social media requires a penchant for exhibition, a commitment to regularly producing compelling content (text, image, and video), continuous monitoring, and a sense of humor — something not all doctors and staff feel comfortable conveying.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING?

If we ignore the more abstract benefits, such as its potential to “humanize” a practice, social media can have a specific, measurable impact on your online reputation, search engine rankings, and paid advertising.

Can you remember a time when you peered into an empty restaurant and thought, “The food must be horrible”? Then, after looking at the line and waiting list for another restaurant, concluded that it must be the tastier of the two? Sociologists have named this phenomenon “social proof.” The number of followers, frequency of online interactions, and the consumer reviews you collect on social media all serve as “proof” that you are respected within your community, which supports a patient’s choice to join your crowd.

Google also requires a kind of “social proof” before rewarding your site with strong search engine rankings. Links to your site that appear on other websites function like virtual votes of confidence. They suggest to Google that your content is useful and interesting and deserving of higher rank. As the number of links increases, so does the popularity of your pages. When you post links to your site on social media, and those links are subsequently shared by your followers, major search engines take note and your search engine rankings benefit accordingly.

But, perhaps social media’s greatest benefit to ophthalmology practices today is also its least understood: paid advertising. Social media sites today are the world’s most popular media channels, and an astonishing portion of our population is “tuned in.” Sites like Facebook and Instagram allow you to carefully target specific populations with advertising messaging at an affordable price.

WHICH SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS ARE BEST FOR US?

Each social media platform has a unique demographic leaning; however, as of June 2017, Facebook reports that the site receives 1.32 billion active users each day, making it the proverbial 800-pound gorilla.

For practices hoping to reach cataract patients and their families, the majority of men and women over 65 still access Facebook routinely. And, while Facebook has the largest audience across all age groups, younger LASIK candidates are increasingly active on Instagram.

Whichever platform you choose, to paraphrase McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, “[you] need to execute fewer things better.” Master a single social media platform before you diversify with a second channel.

WHAT SHOULD WE POST?

Content that receives the most engagement on social media is authentic, features recognizable faces from the practice, and puts patients first. Increasingly, it’s communicated through video.

Social media was never intended for commercial messaging. Focus on content that informs, entertains, and inspires your patient population while allowing them to connect with the people at your office. Don’t be afraid to capture video of a patient testimonial or an answer to a frequent patient question using your smartphone.

Periodically share carefully curated content posted by thought leaders or influencers in your local market or the ophthalmic specialty.

Boilerplate, impersonal posts are doomed to fail.

HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD IT TAKE?

The American professor of cognitive science, Douglas Hofstadter, coined the best answer to this question in his self-referential law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

Effective social media marketing requires you to:

  • Strategize and develop campaigns
  • Maintain active programs to cultivate followers
  • Plan or curate posts, author, edit, and approve content
  • Source or create post graphics and videos
  • Ensure cross-channel integration and content cross promotion
  • Monitor follower feedback and respond to followers
  • Manage promoted posts and paid advertisements.

At a minimum, mastering a single social media channel requires eight hours per week.

CAN I OUTSOURCE MY SOCIAL MEDIA?

Sort of. Unless you’re hiring an agency to sit in your office with a camera, no one outside of your office can capture and share the kind of compelling content mentioned above.

Alternatively, you can effectively partner with an agency to train members of your team. They can teach staff how to spot social media opportunities, keep you on a consistent posting schedule, supplement your in-office content, and effectively manage your social media advertising strategy.

ISN’T THERE RISK FOR MEDICAL PRACTICES ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

Before you embark on your first social media campaign, consider a formal social media policy, and related training.

Your policy should:

  • Identify who is permitted to participate in social media on behalf of the practice (and restrict logins)
  • Establish expectations and risks surrounding employee behavior in social media
  • Articulate guidelines for protecting patient privacy and securing consents
  • Document protocols for post review and approval.

HOW DO I MEASURE SUCCESS?

Measuring success on social media is both wide and deep. Leaders can focus on three sets of data:

  1. Followers. The growth of your followers is a solid indicator of the health of your social media campaign.
  2. Engagement-Reach ratio. The ratio of Total Engagement divided by Total Reach will help you judge the quality of your post content. Strive for 10% or better.
  3. Total actions. This can help you understand the direct response to your social media investment by giving insight into clicks and inquiries that result from your social media activity.

These three metrics and more are generally available on the performance dashboards provided to businesses by the major social media networks.

ARE YOU READY TO GET SOCIAL?

If all of this seems like too much for your practice to take on, don’t worry. Social media is not a mandate for ophthalmology practices. However, if you think you are ready to expand your practice’s marketing reach, social media could be the logical next step.

Minimize your risk by educating yourself and your staff, developing a clear strategy, and carefully monitoring your performance. OP