This article is the first in a three-part series.Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Reddit: The list of social-media platforms grows longer every day. These technologies offer tools that facilitate interactive, reciprocal dialogues among people, groups, businesses, and institutions. Social-media users number in the billions worldwide. They come together to build relationships, share information, and join communities of interest.
It’s a connected world. Should a radiology practice plug into it? What’s the value of developing a social-media presence, and what are the possible risks? “Radiology practices should view using social media as an opportunity to make themselves stronger and more valuable as health-care partners,” according to health-care lawyer and social-media user Thomas Greeson, JD, a partner with Reed Smith LLP who is on Twitter as @tgreeson.
“Used correctly, social-media tools can enhance a practice’s reputation and brand with patients, referring physicians, and hospitals,” Greeson says. “If radiologists want to fight against the stereotype and become more to hospitals than faceless, nameless, replaceable people sitting in front of workstations in dark rooms, then they would do well to consider social media.”
Business realities in health care have changed. Patients have more control over their health-care dollars, and they are more concerned about costs. They are more likely to ask a referring physician for multiple options and then to research those options online. Hospitals also are looking for radiology partnerships that provide the best value.
Developing a social-media presence might help a radiology practice to increase its value and to build stronger relationships with both of these key audiences. Kim Longeteig of Ali’i Marketing and Design specializes in working with radiology groups. She says, “Using social media is an important way to put a face on radiology, build trust with patients, and tell a positive story about how radiology improves people’s lives.”
Greeson notes, “In an era when some insurance providers may try to steer patients away from your services, having a good relationship gives patients a reason to stand by you. Social media can help radiologists build a positive profile and brand in their community. The stronger your community networks are, then the stronger your relationships are with hospitals and local physicians. Your community reputation is an asset that will influence how hospitals perceive you during contract negotiations.”
Parameters for Social-media Use
Social media are valuable and effective tools, yet many health-care providers remain wary of using them. Longeteig says that three major factors hold back radiology groups: first, lack of time and resources to maintain a social-media presence; second, fears about bad comments or reviews; and third, legal concerns about privacy and confidentiality.
In general, Greeson reassures radiology practices that if they first develop a strong corporate social-media policy, then they can participate in social media “without running into legal and ethical problems,” he says. Before jumping into social media, it is imperative to understand how these tools operate and to develop a plan for how they will integrate into ongoing marketing/communications efforts.
Ramsey Mohsen, social director of Digital Evolution Group, a full-service digital consultancy, says, “Using social media is an efficient way to have conversations that you couldn’t otherwise. You can’t really have a conversation on your website. Social media can expand your digital reach.”
Mohsen reports that leveraging social media should support, but not replace, the marketing efforts of a business. “Using social media extends and facilitates, but does not eliminate, your website, email newsletter, or other outreach efforts,” he says. “Just because new media are created, the old ones don’t become less valuable.”
Mohsen also warns social-media users to manage their expectations and define their objectives clearly for developing a social-media presence. “Using social media provides a free tool, and it’s very useful,” he says, “but it’s not a golden ticket. It has its role and limitations, just as any other tool would.”
The Social Part
When it comes to creating a social-media presence, a radiology practice should first develop a strategy to manage the risks and reap the benefits—primarily, telling its story, better, to two key audiences: