5 Social Media Mistakes That Can Cost Patient Referrals
Word of mouth has always been the best way to get patient referrals, no matter what kind of healthcare services you might provide. Yet, the way people talk to one another about something they like (or dislike) has changed drastically in the last decade or two. It used to be that a good hospital or doctor would be mentioned in casual conversation or over the phone, but today, it’s all online. A simple Facebook posting or Tweet can potentially reach dozens or even hundreds of people, giving a great many people a first impression of your practice.
When a prospective patient is in the market for a new healthcare provider, the first place they’ll go is online. It’s just good business to have a website these days, and everyone who hopes to even be known has one today. T
hat is probably not enough now. Social media is an important way to connect with patients in a quick, direct fashion. It has the added benefit of giving a personal touch if you or someone on your staff is savvy in the ways of online etiquette.
There is a rapidly rising trend toward using social media to find new services, making a search engine like Google only part of what is necessary to be a success in the market — any market. Because social media and direct messaging is so easy to access by anyone with a smartphone, it’s quickly becoming the way to find relevant and current information. A homepage just isn’t enough anymore.
Social media, like your health information management system, is necessary, but it isn’t something one should just jump into, either. Like any other public relations tool, social media can have its downside, and it’s easy to make a costly or embarrassing mistake if you’re not careful. Take a look at a few mistakes commonly made by those new to social media so you can avoid making them when you set up your own accounts.
Mistake #1: The Wrong People for the Right Job
Just as specialists are necessary for certain jobs in the medical field, anyone who manages your social media should really know social media. All those potential referrals will never become actual referrals if your social media manager does not know how to properly communicate with your patients. It’s all too common for someone who should never have had access to the social media account saying something better left unsaid and driving away prospects.
Your staff may do perfectly well with their own personal social media accounts, but a business account is a little different, especially when it comes to something as confidential as healthcare. Anyone you expect to post on your business social media needs to be trained in whatever policy you would like to establish for your particular needs. Whatever you decide, make sure everyone knows and observes the HIPAA requirements at all times.
Mistake #2: False Friends
It’s really easy to acquire a large number of friends, likes, or followers, if you’re willing to spend the money. Some even go as far as to make fake Facebook profiles. Buying YouTube views and other indicators of popularity makes it look like a lot of people are interested in your practice, but it’s somewhat like painting a thin layer of gold over a brick. Sooner or later, someone’s going to scratch the surface and see things for what they really are.
The big problem with bought friends is that they’ll never actually interact with your online community like a genuine patient would. Your social media will be very boring without people making posts or responding to each other, and people who log on will begin to wonder why there are so many people subscribed to a site where no one ever posts anything. At the very least, actual prospects will stay away, because your site seems uninteresting. At the very worst, Facebook (or Twitter or YouTube) will discover purchased popularity and shut down your account.
Even if you don’t have as many people engaged on your social media as you might like, it’s better that each person who participates is a real person. It is truly a case of quality over quantity.
Mistake #3: Mistaken Marketing
You’ll want people with a lot of good things to say about your practice on your social media sites, of course. But just like it’s a bad idea to have fake friends on Facebook, it’s also never a good idea to have fake reviews or testimonials posted. In some cases, Google can even detect such reviews and have them removed.
In the case of negative reviews, the first instinct for many is to hide them or find some way to remove them. That’s also a marketing mistake. If you leave the negative reviews up there, and make an active attempt to respond in a positive manner, you’ll find that does as much good for your practice as a positive review. Direct response and action shows that you care about the needs and concerns of your patients and they will respond with increased respect for you.
Fake testimonials are a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean you should never do a little self-promotion. Of course, it’s necessary for people to notice your site. Word of mouth is still the best way advertise, but that word of mouth has to start somewhere. You’ll need to get those first few people to spread the good word.
It’s perfectly natural to dislike self-promotion because it may feel disingenuous to “sing your own praises.” But there’s nothing wrong with telling the truth. If you’re honestly good at something, or if there’s something unique or distinguishing about you or your practice, the world needs to know. Only then will people come in, learn for themselves, and go out and tell others.
Mistake # 4: Not Enough Personal Touch
One of the big reasons for social media’s popularity is the way it allows people to interact with one another. Responses that sound automated are going to have patients quickly looking for someone else to serve their medical needs. Personal touches are the key to making you and your staff appearfar more human to your patients.
Your staff is a very important part of your day to day work. This goes for your online presence as well. Not only should you have a picture and a profile up there so people can know a little bit about you, but so should any nurses, physicians, and receptionists. People should be able to look at your website so they can put a name to a face when they come into your office.
You might even consider having an employee of the quarter (or month or week, depending upon how many you have) to highlight someone in particular. Give some highlights of that person’s time with you and of their past experience. Remember to add a photograph. There are few things that allow one person to connect with another more than being able to see their faces.
If the public can see how good you are to your staff and how well you seem to be working together through your social media offerings, they may start to consider how well you’ll treat any patients. It’s a great idea to market yourself and marketing your staff is just as important — and an important factor in giving your social media a personal touch.
The human element should also extend to how you and your staff respond to posts. Working in a medical facility does not mean you should have a clinical attitude about everything. As long as you stick to your social media policies and practices, it’s a good idea to respond genuinely rather than with a stock answer for any given praise or criticism. If there are certain questions you frequently receive, create and post a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list. Negative feedback and specific questions, however, should always get a personal, and thoughtful, answer.
Mistake # 5: Too Much Personal Touch
There can, in fact, be too much of a good thing. It’s a good idea to respond regularly and offer up your own thoughts and ideas on your social media sites, but that can often cross over a line into too much content. When you post every so often, people will be interested in what you have to say. If you start posting several times a day, people will start to ignore it. If your patients get constant social media updates from you, it’s very likely they’ll unfriend or unfollow you.
The important aspect of social media is not how it can sell your practice. It’s about how you can establish and build relationships with your patients. Conveniently enough, this will also sell your practice. The trick is not to go overboard with the proverbial hard sell. Patients will be drawn to your social media sites by interesting material that offers them something of value and driven away by the internet equivalent of small talk.
Social Media: The Right Way
As mentioned above, social media is all about word of mouth. It allows people to recommend you to the people they care about most — their friends and family. You can’t get better referrals than that. Social media allows people to spread the word faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Not all healthcare facilities have the time or bandwidth to have a major social media presence, but that’s okay. Often, a major presence is actually too much. Limited resources can help you keep it simple. Some personal profiles and a way to respond to feedback are all you really need to get started.
- Facebook:Before you start, you’re going to need a good username, and it will to be something that reflects the name of your facility. This can be sometimes difficult, because each name has to be unique. Completely fill out your profile and be sure to add a profile photo and cover photo. When you post, use photos there too.
- LinkedIn: Start your page by filling out all the information completely. Because this is a site for professionals, every detail counts. This includes images, just as with the other sites. Posts on LinkedIn should be a bit more serious than material you post to other sites. This is where you show your expertise in your given field with links to relevant material relating to your area of practice.
- Twitter: As with Facebook, you’re going to need a unique handle that communicates the name of your practice — but it’s going to have be fairly short. Brevity is a big deal on Twitter. Fill out your profile completely and add the appropriate images: profile, header, and background. Good tweets (no more than a few times a day) will direct people to some interesting fact about your branch of medicine, news about your practice, or something else relevant to your followers.
- YouTube: Not everyone feels the need to utilize YouTube, but if you do, make sure you use it for maximum impact. That starts with making a channel, so all your videos are easy to find. The channel summary is a good place to put information about your practice and what your video offerings are all about. Videos about life behind the scenes are often a good way to show patients what your facility has to offer.
You and your staff determine how your practice is perceived both online and in the world at large. Training and the wise allocation of your resources, including time, are vital to the successful use of social media. Just remember that in the end, it’s all just conversation, whether face-to-face or via Facebook reply. If you keep the same standards of professionalism and friendliness across the board, you’ve already taken a big step toward having a successful social media program — and you’ll avoid not only the mistakes listed above, but many others, as well.
About the Author:
Emily has been writing about health business topics for many years, and currently writes on behalf of the electronic health records specialists at OmniMD. In her spare time, she cheers for Spirit of Atlanta, Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment, creates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen