3 Under-reported Social Media Risks for Doctors

Doctors are taking risks by sitting out of social media

Each year I listen in on dozens of practice management sessions at medical conference for plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and facial plastic surgeons. A pattern I’ve seen for several years is that a speaker shares insights about how social media represents significant risks to a medical practice. Tread with fear.

This is unbalanced advice.

To support their premise of social media harm to a doctor’s practice, the speaker may cite an edge case, such as

The doctors depart from these talks with frowns deeper than can be treated with Botox, and surely conclude it’s safer to focus on marketing their website and buying ads.

Social media isn’t worth the risk, right?

Not so fast. The other side of this discussion is that there’s a real cost of staying on the sidelines. 3 risks a doctor incurs by choosing to remain disengaged and let social media happen to them include:

1. Socially-disconnected doctors compete for a shrinking customer base

As a doctor remains convinced that marketing is safest when buying advertising in directory listings and magazines, the target 18-34 year old female patient is moving rapidly away from these media outlets to get informed and make decisions regarding her doctor and the right procedure. This demographic spends an inordinate amount of time in social media, and regards peers–including complete strangers–as trusted resources to making big decisions like cosmetic surgery.  So, the reach and effectiveness of traditional doctor marketing are–or about to be–in steep decline. Savvy rivals such as mega-medispa chains are running Facebook campaigns are keeping up with the media consumption shift, and calculate that by doing so they’ll broaden the potential customer base.

A doctor competing on a shrinking customer base should be prepared for peaks and longer valleys in demand for services.

2. Professional reputations get defined by everyone but the doctor

By refraining from participating and leveraging social media, a doctor indeed finds that their reputation gets defined by what patients or unknown parties say about them on Yelp or rate-my-doctor type sites. Prospective patients are smart enough to look for more than what anonymous poster “Jane Doe” thinks.

They want to know –before stepping into the office– what they’ll discover should they become a patient: the doctor’s demeanor, care, empathy, expertise and dedication to superb outcomes. They want to uncover whether the doctor has a hidden agenda to upsell a service, amongst other fears from having an encounter with the physician. A desire for a strong, trusting relationship with their doctor or surgeon means that they are going to look beyond patient reviews before deciding on a physician.

While doctors can’t control what others say about you online, they can control the message that you put forth. Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Baylor (and a blogger) puts it:

 You have no control over what people say. You have 100% control of the story you create

When Matt Cutts, a Google executive, was asked about the fairness of online reviews (which can be negative or patently untrue), he replied: “The only answer to bad speech is more speech.”

In other words, staying silent in our socially-enabled online world isn’t really an option for elective-medicine practioners like plastic surgeons. Google isn’t going to remove information from its search results, even if it’s completely false or considered personally defamatory. So a tremendous benefit afforded by social media is that one can build and protect a reputation against negative comments and reviews by becoming a routine publisher of helpful information.

3. You lose touch with super valuable customers

Doctors recognize that acquiring a new patient is costly, and the socially-disconnected practice relies almost entirely upon a newsletter to keep alive the lifetime value of their customers. However, an email pushed into a person’s inbox represents a monologue–only what the medical practice sees fit to print– whereas the world of social media has morphed business-to-consumer communication into a conversation. People tune out much of the non-conversational information blasted at them by marketers because it offers lower value and utility.

Facebook and Twitter have huge user bases, but that’s not why a doctor should be on either service (finding new patients from either service is challenging given that few openly express interest in cosmetic surgery, for instance).

A core rationale for participation is that both services make it very easy for past patients to stay in touch, and just as important, it provides a great way to listen to what’s on the mind of the patient base.

Sitting out of social media means you’re probably still telling your customers how to think and what to do. It’s now about listening and engaging, guiding and supporting.

The bottom-line: Swim in the the same places frequented by your prospects and customers. Dip your toes into social media without fearing  sharks.

About TomS

Tom Seery is the founder and CEO of RealSelf. Tom is a frequent speaker at medical conferences about practice marketing, reputation management, and competing on the web. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/seery