Facebook for Doctors: Being Liked Doesn’t Always Add Up

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Your patients may Like you on Facebook but that affection may be worth less than you think. Despite the ubiquity of that familiar “thumb’s up” button, research is giving it “thumb’s down” in terms of its power to engage with consumers and generate business.

The reason is both simple and complicated.

On the simple side, evidence suggests that the number of Likes a page receives is a poor indicator of consumer engagement. According to a January study by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, just 1.3% of fans of the biggest brands on Facebook actually engage with the brand in question.

The number drops even further — to just 0.45% — when you exclude new Likes, which require no further engagement than a single click.

For a doctor with even 5,000 Likes that means that less than 25 could be considered loyal followers, i.e., those that ask questions, sign up for newsletters or respond to special offers. The other 4,975 may have clicked on the button out of habit, because a friend suggested they do or because a particular update resonated. As eMarketer notes:

The link between “likes” and loyalty remains unclear. Although many consumers have opened up to brands that are present on Facebook, brand marketers should not expect they’ve earned consumer loyalty simply because a consumer has clicked the “like” button.

Then there’s the more complicated issue, which boils down to the reality that even your most loyal fans may not be seeing your updates. That’s because, unbeknownst to most of its users, Facebook actively winnows down the flow of stories that make it into people’s newsfeeds.

The challenge for any publisher of content on Facebook is that only 10% of their ‘fans’ will see the updates in their newsfeed, says Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf.com. This is because Facebook’s newsfeed is based on an algorithm called EdgeRank.

The inner workings of EdgeRank are a closely guarded secret, but Facebook marketing expert Jeff Widman offers an in-depth analysis at EdgeRank.net. Suffice it to say that the Facebook servers analyze your updates, rank them in terms of potential interest and show only the highest-scoring ones to your fans.

It’s possible to optimize your fan page to improve your EdgeRank (see below) but it’s equally important to recognize that even the powers-that-be at Facebook view the site as a service rather than a one-stop shop. As Widman says,

Mark Zuckerberg’s vision is for Facebook to serve as the social layer on the web, not as the destination site.

Better instead to stop worrying about being “liked,” concentrate on making your website your fans’ preferred destination and using your Facebook page as another path to lead them there.

Doctor Takeaways

1. People may Like you but not for the reasons you think

According to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, the top three reasons people Like brands on Facebook are to be eligible for exclusive offers (67%), to interact with other customers (60%) and to find games, contests and other unique experiences (57%). Exclusive offers aside, it’s unlikely those interactions will generate new business.

2. It’s not the quantity of your fans, it’s the quality

Every action someone takes on your fan page generates data that’s fed into its EdgeRank, but some actions carry more weight than others. According to Chad Wittman of EdgeRankChecker, comments generate, on average, four times as many clicks as Likes do. Hence, a few truly engaged fans are worth more than a whole bunch of ones who simply Like you.

3. If you want to be seen, be interesting

Given that EdgeRank gives more weight to comments than to Likes, it’s important to optimize your fan page to encourage responses to your posts. Asking questions, taking polls and otherwise soliciting input will not only boost engagement; it’ll help ensure your posts show up where they’re supposed to.


About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.


  • Rob,
    great article – I agree with you.  Facebook “likes” are a lot like
    website visits – the measurement of success needs to be focused on
    quality not quantity.  So many doctors that I interact with have the
    idea that acquiring new likes on their Facebook page is all that
    matters.  As you explain, it’s not the amount of likes that’s important,
    rather the patient interaction that starts the momentum on a FB page.
     Many of our clients with the most successful campaigns have morphed
    their FB pages into an online support group of sorts. Patients are able
    to identify with other patients undergoing procedures at different
    stages and interact.   This type of interaction is what we try to
    encourage for our clients interested in building a strong social media

    also believe that just as a website validates word of mouth referral
    for many physicians, an interactive Facebook page can do the same.  So,
    if a patient is researching several doctors in their area, an
    interactive Facebook page may be the difference maker in attracting that
    individual to the practice.

  • I totally agree.  In fact, this is why companies are switching to WordPress to host their websites.  It allows more interaction, a built in blog allowing comments and the ability to change copy on a whim.  FB should be about engagement with less selling and talking AT followers. We are just rolling out a new social software that will allow for drilling down and finding to those who are real fans so that you can build exclusive relationships with them and focus on true CRM.

  • seery1

    I’m curious on where doctors should draw the line in patient interaction. Some doctors I’ve spoken to about this are adamant that they should never interact publicly with patients. However, many more are clearly making an investment in Facebook and engaging in open conversations about medical information. My perspective is that a doctor must weigh the consequences and potential risks of being hype-accessible. Most practices seem to lack policies to manage social media issues like a disgruntled patient posting to the doctor’s facebook page, or commenting negatively on the doctor’s blog. 

  • Our Facebook page has worked wonderful for us. Not because of the likes, but for the people that jump from there to visit our website. 

  • Eva Sheie

    I like how you imply that 5000 is a small number of “Likes.” Most surgery practices would be thrilled to get to 500!  Because even one patient can generate a significant amount of revenue for a practice, followed by an exponential number of referrals, there are immense benefits to having even 50 or 100 fans. 

    We know after several years of watching and measuring that patients who are willing to click the Like button for a plastic surgeon are unabashedly loyal and not afraid to say to the world that they like plastic surgery. This makes Facebook the perfect venue for a plastic surgeon’s most loyal patients to also be their strongest brand advocates. 

    We also know that a lot of patients will be “lurkers.” They will visit the page but not click the Like button, so it’s important that what you’re posting on the page is interesting and relevant, and that it’s easy to get back and forth between your website and your Facebook page.

    Remember that these aren’t just regular business to consumer relationships either. Most of these patients have gone in and been literally naked in front of the business owner. (We certainly hope this level of personal sharing would result in a “like.”)

    Just like in real life, we want great fans on Facebook and great patients in the office.  If a practice is using Facebook correctly, posting relevant friendly content, and not posting too often, they can actually expect patients to engage. 

    But most small businesses, plastic surgery practices included, don’t understand what to write, or even that two to three posts per week is sufficient. It’s not about quantity, it’s all about posting quality content and focusing on engaging with quality fans.

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