Social media — it’s not just for posting vacation photos and connecting with old friends anymore. These days, social is also an increasingly important search tool as millions of people forgo Google and Bing in favor of information that’s been shared socially by people with similar interests.
It’s called “social search” or “social discovery,” and as new data suggests, it will likely play an increasing role in whether potential patients find your practice or someone else’s. As GlobalWebIndex recently reported, 37% of internet users turned to social networks to carry out research on brands or products last year, a marked increase over the 28% who did so in 2015.
So what is social search/discovery? Simply put, it’s the process of incorporating connections, preferences, and personal information to better predict what content will best fit searchers’ needs. If you’ve ever used Spotify to discover new music or browsed boards on Pinterest, you’ve reaped its benefits. Since the software that drives it already has an idea of what you’re likely to want to see, hear, or purchase, it stands to reason that the results will be a better match for your inquiry.
And, to cut to the chase, that generates trust. After all, if others with a common interest find something worthwhile, there’s a good chance you will, too.
Little wonder, then, that social search is gaining ground. According to a recent report from HootSuite, 67% of global respondents now use social as a source for news and information, just shy of the 71% who use Google, etc.
Trust is a big reason why. When the survey asked people who they trusted most on such sites, the top five answers were:
- Friends and family: 78% (up 11% YOY)
- An academic expert: 65% (up 4%)
- Companies that I use: 62% (up 9%)
- Employees of a company: 55% (up 9%)
- A company CEO: 49% (up 39%)
Clearly, people are willing to trust information from a wide array of sources. Here’s how to ensure you’re among them:
Know your audience: While those who came of age pre-Facebook usually rely on traditional search, younger people often skip right to social, which means they’re more likely to come across your social content than your practice website. For practices serving younger patients, being socially present and active is a must.
Share interesting news: The key word is “interesting,” as in useful, relevant, newsworthy. Facebook, for example, is giving more space to news items in people’s News Feeds, while also increasing its efforts to cut down on brand posts it deems overly promotional. Your content is more likely to be discovered when it’s about the people viewing it, not you and your practice. If a new device or procedure is generating buzz or great results, share your thoughts on it, not the fact that you offer it.
Focus on credibility: Given the above, it’s important to remember that what others have to say about you often carries more weight than what you say about yourself. As the Hootsuite report puts it:
Consumers are researching products on social channels. Make sure you have third party content (such as customer stories, video reviews) showing up in social searches.
Persuade with video: Speaking of video, social video is booming, and it’s only going to grow bigger as both Facebook and Twitter now let users film and post live videos straight into their feeds. Even if you don’t use the live angle, videos remain a powerful tool for engaging potential patients. As with Tip 1 above, the more your practice treats millennials, the more important it is to share your videos socially.
Involve everyone: Of course, friends and family are the most-trusted sources on social, but academic experts (what doctor isn’t?), employees, and bosses all score highly, too. Taking a personal approach while also empowering others to contribute to your social activity humanizes your practice and expands its reach.
If you want to get found, facilitate social discovery
As more aesthetic consumers embrace social search, traditional metrics like website pageviews and traffic will provide a less accurate picture of your overall reach. At the same time, the explosive growth of social content will only make it harder to get heard. Forget vanity metrics, such as fans and follower counts, and focus on determining which channels deliver real value by reaching high-intent searchers and making it easier for them to become potential patients.