Doctors Don’t Need to Be on Facebook (and other good news)

Facebook and social media are not lead generation tools. These services provide an opportunity for prospective patients, fans and followers to get to know you…at an appropriate arm’s length

Doctors in social media should have arms length relationshipsWhen I presented about the social media-empowered patient at the recent ASAPS and ASDS conferences, one statement I made got audible sighs of relief from doctors: “you don’t need to be on Facebook.” That’s right. Doctors aren’t missing out by staying on the Facebook sidelines.*

This counter-trend opinion is based on data we’ve analyzed in conjunction with vendors operating hundreds of websites for plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and medical spas. The research shows that doctors see very little in the way of new patients stemming from their Facebook activity. They get minimal referral traffic to their practice website in return for their posts.

Some practices believe having a page is important for maintaining a connection with patients. Facebook can indeed serve as a dynamic newsletter that keeps committed patients somewhat engaged. But patient “likes” to the practice are super challenging to acquire given people’s desire to keep their cosmetic procedure activities a private affair. Doctors should expect de minimis returns from time consuming Facebook updating efforts.

Doctors who are being pushed into Facebook by their office or marketing vendor should answer one question to do a quick gut check: do you think it’s appropriate for doctors to be directly accessible and “friending” patients? From my perspective, these unprotected exchanges are awkward and fraught with risks of violating patient privacy. Doctors who post in places where they can get into a back-and-forth with a patient could, feasibly, form a patient-doctor relationship. I’m quite sure doctors are incredibly disinterested in this outcome from their social postings.

Doctors can leverage the benefits of social media in a safer and more effective approach then becoming BFF’s with their patients.

Based on millions of social data points we collect each month at RealSelf, we’re seeing empirical evidence that core aesthetic doctors get a positive ROI when they devote time on the social web toward becoming approachable, rather than accessible in social networks. More specifically, being approachable means sharing your expertise in posts to the web with only one agenda in mind: to be helpful and supportive of consumer education.

5 ways you can be approachable and build trust with prospective patients:

1. Answer questions. Q&A services provided by RealSelf or Quora don’t enable a two-way communication that draws you into a place where the conversation is entirely unpredictable. Questions are great because they express what’s on people’s minds vs. what you think they should be told. You can even add Q&A from RealSelf to your own website or blog to demonstrate how you’re centered on patient safety and outcomes vs. selling products and services.

2. Show your human side. Prospective patients can’t get to know you if your tweets are just the quote of the day, or your practice’s Facebook updates are plastered with the latest practice promotion or discount. Putting an emphasis on your connection and activities within the local community is far more effective at garnering attention and differentiating you from others. This is frequently called “cause marketing,” which is a proven way to cut through the clutter to get people to engage and feel they can relate to a practice or doctor.

3. Avoid controversial stands. Keep personal opinions to immediate friends and steer away from religion, politics, and other potentially divisive topics. Enough said.

4. Share other people’s information. Retweet, link to blog posts, and reference other resources that offer good information. Loads of bad SEO advice has convinced many doctors that linking hurts the practice’s website rankings. Linking to quality information is great for consumers and it’s good for rankings. What you choose to share also builds your personal brand.

5. Let others do the talking. Empower your patients to share their experiences. While it may be uncomfortable for a doctor, requesting that a patient post about their outcome is a powerful way to help people understand your expertise as a doctor and how you deliver superb care. When they say you’re great it has vastly greater impact than you saying it.

Social media is undoubtedly a time commitment that is difficult to factor into a busy medical practice or spa. But, most businesses are starting to see social media as the new cost of doing business. As stated by Gary Hamel, an influential business strategist,

To gain influence and status, you have to give away your expertise and content. And you must do it quickly; if you don’t, someone else will beat you to the punch—and garner the credit that might have been yours.

Based on the doctors I’ve met, few would be comfortable with the idea of declining influence and status.

I’ll hedge my statement Facebook’s relevance to doctors. The impact of Facebook could change down the road as the company tackles search, mobile devices and demonstrates it can be relevant to commerce. At present day, they’ve got a ways to go.

About Tom Seery

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
  • moniqueramsey

    Interesting points here Tom. I think the waters are being muddied in your article, however. By saying “You don’t need to be on Facebook” I believe you are actually doing them a big disservice. And I don’t say this because it’s what I do for a living – I say it as a former practice administrator who spent 20 years in plastic surgery management and marketing. I know from firsthand experience how much of a difference it made in our practice’s patient retention, loyalty to our brand, repeat business, community awareness, and last but not least, referrals.

    Now, should physicians THEMSELVES be on Facebook? The answer is yes, if they want to, but for their personal profile for friends and family *only*. These guidelines were set forth by the American Medical Association in late 2010 so this is not new news. However, whether or not the physician wants a personal profile is less important than the PRACTICE having a page.

    Implementing a practice Facebook page (and this goes for all social media channels) opens an online channel for your practice/brand to engage with current patients, their friends (most likely to buy), and prospective clients on a daily basis. If you think about it, you cannot do this any other way.

    I believe RealSelf offers surgeons a wonderful platform to show their expertise and let the patients “get to know them”. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and Foursquare, all provide additional touchpoint opportunities. With Facebook’s Graph Search implications *(1) and the strong SEO benefits of social media in general, it’s more important than ever to be active in all channels so you are connecting with this new digitally-connected consumer.

    We have become a culture of sharing. The connected consumer shares everything – how they feel about you, your brand, your products, and your service. It used to be a happy customer tell s one person and an unhappy customer tells ten. NOW – that same customer can tell hundreds or thousands the good and the bad with one touch of her finger – and 70% of consumers will believe her! This is the shift from word of mouth being “one-to-one “ to “one-to-many” and is why social media is not a “nice to have”- it’s expected.

    Remember, Facebook is not a marketing platform, but rather another communication platform, similar to the telephone, email, or RealSelf) but the beauty of it is that you engage with patients where they are spending time (and on their terms). Your updates have to be relevant and engaging to be worthy of a like, share, re-tweet, re-pin, etc.

    As for the results you found on whether or not social brings new patient activity, I would question how these practices conducted and measured their social media efforts.*(2) All too often the practice sets up a page and leaves it to wither and die by not updating on a regular basis (and losing out on Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm for getting seen in the news feed), not engaging when patients comment, or flooding the stream with marketing posts. The saddest part is how many 3rd party providers don’t “get” social media either. So MD’s might be spending good money with so called experts who don’t understand the nuances of social and therefore implement the wrong strategy.

    Social media is relationship marketing. Brian Solis, global new media thought leader called social, “The new cost of doing business. In an era of connected consumerism, to earn customer attention, trust, and loyalty is a cost and an investment in relevance and relationships.” (3)

    Relevant Related Posts:
    * (1)
    * (2)
    * (3)

  • monique – I would like to hear more about your perspective and would welcome a guest post. The nature of my post is that there are about scant (reported) demonstrated ROI from Facebook activity; the data we have for a wide swath of doctor sites is that FB referral traffic is anemic and low quality. Would love to hear about success stories!

  • moniqueramsey

    Hi Tom – Thanks – I would love to have a guest post. 🙂 Thank you for the invite.