How doctors can use social media to reach more patients

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How can health providers use social media to reach more patients and grow their practice in 2020?

I argue it matters for building your practice and for the sake of all of our public health.

That’s because seven months into the pandemic, it’s clear that a lack of trust and agreement of facts eroding.

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer of United Memorial Medical Center, achieved the Internet fame he likely never desired when his quote about battling ignorance went viral: 

“My motto has been, you know, at the present time, I’m pretty much fighting two wars: a war against COVID and a war against stupidity. And the problem is that the first one I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult to treat. Why do I say that? Because people are not listening. Whether it’s backed up by science or just plain old common sense, people are not listening throughout the country,” Varon said.

It would take a whole series of articles to begin to explain why we no longer agree on facts in 2020. Some of this is covered in Netflix’s new film, The Social Dilemma. The short of it is this: today we’re no longer a nation of citizens who settles down in the evening to watch Walter Cronkite dissect and analyze the state of our world. Instead, each of us has our personal flood of sources in our online bubble, feeding us information based on what algorithms anticipate we want to see.

lack of trust in science

You likely already know this, and you’re committed to being active on social media because of it.

Or maybe you’ve sworn off social media instead because you’re too busy to care about the latest video of your sister’s puppy to pay attention to Facebook. But even if you’ve managed to avoid social media, Google, Google Maps and all cookies, you’re still stuck in a world where trust in science and medicine is eroding. 

This is all of our problem.

Want to create more content for your practice in less time? Get my 6 steps to reaching more patients with social media

    Why aren’t more doctors creating engaging content on social media to reach more patients?

    Here’s an angle I haven’t seen anyone talking about. While peddlers of fads and quack medicine are creating engaging content that social algorithms love, most doctors and scientists committed to evidence-based medicine go largely unnoticed and unread on social media. 

    Put simply, many doctors are posting to social media like it’s 2010. Much of the content I see from doctors still looks like the following:

    • Flyers promoting a health fair
    • Clip art images about when the office is closed
    • Links to blogs from their affiliate association
    • Posting without engaging
    • Dry newsletters with no personality
    • Websites that talk all about the practice without speaking to the patient
    doctors still post like it's 2010

    This is something we can work together to solve.

    Consider the example of pediatricians, whose target audience (women, ages 25-44) are among the heaviest users of social media. Many moms (and dads too, but I’m focusing on women here) pay close attention to health information, making it easy for doctors to engage with them on social media.

    This means that pediatricians have the ability to cross over political leanings and enter families’ content bubbles in a way that–sadly–other spokespersons for evidence-based medicine and science cannot. 

    But are pediatricians reaching patients’ families? Many of them are, like a lot of the physicians on the Somedocs Facebook group, as well as Wendy Sue Swanson MD, Kelly Fradin MD, Dr. Cesar Cardenas and Zulma Laracuente MD–to name a few.

    Dr. Cesar Cardenas
    Dr. Cesar Cardenas fills his feed with stories, Reels and fun photos of kids getting braces on and off. Even his bio is cheeky: “Chief Hugger at Embrace Orthodontics.

    But a lot of them aren’t. 

    And when you’re a patient, you’re more likely to follow your own doctors, who you already know, like and trust. Social media marketing isn’t just good for growing your practice, it’s good for spreading knowledge and information. 

    Here’s why more physicians aren’t reaching more patients

    Let’s state the obvious. You as a doctor are incredibly busy, with a job that was high-stress even before you needed to battle a pandemic. If marketing is at the bottom of your priority list, it’s not because you don’t know it’s important, but because every day you manage urgent needs.

    Next, let’s define who is even in a position to reach more patients with social media marketing. Mostly, this means private practice physicians. Doctors who work within a network might write a blog for the hospital website, but patients aren’t as likely to see this. 

    Private practice doctors have their own website and social media channels. They’re responsible for the content, branding and voice. They can speak directly to the families they know and respond to the questions they get in the office. They can be silly, funny and authentic on social media without the bureaucracy and red tape a physician faces in, say, a hospital network. 

    But, of the private practices in a position to actually reach their patients, many still post a series of notices about hours, flu shot reminders and the occasional blog from an association like the AAP. 

    It’s clear they don’t have a social media strategy, and they likely don’t have time to manage one.

    When I do see a doctor post a great photo, even if it’s just from a physician’s birthday celebration in the office, parents all jump in to say “happy birthday.” This shows that patients often feel connected to their physician and will react when these doctors put themselves out there.

    pediatrician birthday
    My kids’ pediatrician and client, who I adore. Over 1/2 their followers reacted to this simple photo.

    It also shows that you don’t have to dance on Instagram Reels while juggling to capture patients’ attention (although this would be pretty cool).

    A little effort will go a long way.

    Here are ways private practice doctors can reach more patients

    1. Plan content ahead of time so that you post consistently. If you don’t post consistently, your content is less likely to show up in your followers’ feed. Pick 9-12 themes and create 12 posts for each theme. Schedule these for a year using a social media scheduler. Then, you’ll have at least three posts per week, and you’ll never have radio silence on your social media channels.
    2. Do a photoshoot. Do this professionally or bring your teen to work and use an iPhone. Take photos of everyone in the office in multiple poses to use on social media. That way you can post something like three reasons flu shots will make kids stronger this season in an engaging way, such as with a photo of the kids’ favorite doctor making a fun superman pose.
    3. Designate a social media ambassador in the office. Clearly you shouldn’t be spending time posting to Facebook when you’re busy with patients and the administrative work of running a practice. But maybe you have a nurse, an office administrator or even a scribe who is so used to posting to social media that it isn’t a big deal to snap photos and post them to Facebook and Instagram. Designate a few social media ambassadors and get them to post directly or submit content to you on a Slack channel to post later.
    4. Answer frequently asked questions. Want to know what parents are wondering on social media? Take what they’re already asking in the office and on your nurse triage line and respond to that. If a few parents asked, other parents want to know as well. 
    5. Get in the stories. Stories are where social media users engage the most with the brands and people they love. Doctors can use stories to get patients to ask questions, give responses and stay connected to the practice. This creates a sense of belonging so that when patients do have an issue, their doctor is already top of mind. They’ll be less likely to ask in a community Facebook group or turn to Dr. Google.
    6. Take a course. If you don’t have time to bother with social media marketing, someone on your staff can learn to promote your practice for you with a course like the Everyday Marketing course I’m launching in January.

    Get more ideas on how to create engaging social media content for your practice in less time

      Private practice physicians, especially pediatricians, are uniquely positioned to reach more parents and educate whole families. While we wait for the tech industry to fix their algorithms to favor truth and flag nefarious actors, it’s up to all of us to make the online space better.

      Physicians who can’t be bothered dealing with social media or even planning for how the practice should reach parents in this space should consider hiring a social media expert to implement a plan for them. 

      It’s not just good advertising and good business practice, it’s good citizenship.

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