Radiology and Social Media: A Tale of Two Practices

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This article is third in a three-part series. To read the first article in the series, click here; to read the second, click here. Pam PyrcKatie RobbinsDeveloping a social-media presence helps radiology practices develop their brands and build relationships with patients, referring physicians, and hospitals. Several practices have already tested these waters. Inland Imaging (Spokane, Washington) and Charlotte Radiology in North Carolina have successfully learned how to fit social media into their marketing strategies, create compelling content, and evaluate social-media return on investment (ROI). Providing services throughout the Western United States, Inland Imaging became involved in social media as early as 2009. Pam Pyrc, director of marketing at Inland Imaging, recommends that radiology practices be very clear about their social-media goals. Her own goals include increasing brand recognition and inviting patient interaction and engagement. Inland Imaging currently maintains an extensive social-media presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, as well as a few geolocation services. Inland Imaging also carries out extensive reputation monitoring on review sites (such as Yelp). Inland Imaging’s social-media team is made up of Pyrc and Adam Clear, digital marketing strategist . Pyrc sees a social-media presence as critical. “We’re in a new era where reciprocal conversations help shape your brand,” Pyrc says. “In fact, if you don’t allow this interaction and freedom, then your audience may turn on you.” Pyrc and Clear also point to how social media can inform other marketing efforts. “When you have online conversations with patients, look at the words they use,” Pyrc says. “Pay attention to their colloquial ways of talking about procedures. Be sure to shape campaigns from the patients’ point of view.” Relationship to Traditional Marketing Katie Robbins, marketing director at Charlotte Radiology, offers another important caution for integrating social media into a practice’s existing marketing efforts. “Using social media complements traditional marketing, but does not replace it,” Robbins says. A practice of more than 80 radiologists, Charlotte Radiology has a social-media team that is composed of Joe Decker, data and technology specialist, and Michelle Russell, manager for breast-health marketing/practice relations (in addition to Robbins). Charlotte Radiology maintains a social-media presence through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Its content stream—posts, status updates, and more—trends toward patient education regarding mammography and vascular services. Robbins sees social media as an extension of public relations and as a platform that is especially effective in reaching patients. She recommends using social media to maintain a year-round brand presence, then using traditional media (radio, print, and television) in support of targeted campaigns. Based on patient-survey results, Robbins and her team estimate that Charlotte Radiology currently reaches a minimum of 3,000 screening-mammography patients through Facebook, and numbers are on the rise. Developing Content That Works Through social media, a radiology practice can tell its story by generating and sharing content—interesting and frequent status updates, links, photos, polls, contests, and other engaging material. For Inland Imaging, telling its story means putting a face on the practice and showing how it supports wellness throughout the community. A key part of Inland Imaging’s social-media identity is that, Pyrc says, “We produce our own authentic content. We keep an eye on national radiology trends and discussions, too, but our posts are genuine to our area, our brand identity, and our company culture.” Clear describes Inland Imaging’s typical content stream as a mix of stories about the community, patient feedback, events and contests, company culture, and charitable work. Inland Imaging doesn’t particularly focus on educating patients about any specific treatment modalities. It does, however, use social media to address some of patients’ major questions, such as those concerning exam procedures and radiation dose. The practice’s Facebook page also provides a place for patients to share positive experiences and unsolicited testimonials. According to Pyrc and Clear, the key to developing successful content is to understand patients’ perspectives. “You want to honor the patient’s health experience,” Clear says. “His or her perspective is as valid as the radiologist’s subject-matter experience. Try to speak the patient’s language.” Pyrc also notes the patient’s need for support. “As a medical facility, we have an opportunity for personal and meaningful patient interactions,” she says. “We are part of people’s lives when they are often the most tumultuous.” Don’t just make a post and walk away, Robbins advises. Be sure to interact with your audience. “It lets other people know that it’s a two-way street,” she says. Robbins also says that if someone else leaves an inappropriate post on your page, you should take it down—but for posts that politely state a problem with your practice, “Leave them up,” she says. “Apologize and follow up; find some way to fix the problem.” The risk of negative feedback understandably leaves some practices wary about social media’s open lines of communication—but as Clear says, “When it comes to customers and patients, the days of one-way communication are over. This means both risk and reward.” Assessing Value Is using social media worth the work? What outcomes are useful for measuring the success of a practice’s social-media presence? Many social-media platforms offer analytics that help track an organization’s social-media reach, evaluating everything from engagement and acquisition to the most engaging content. “If you’re not tracking and not analyzing, you’re not learning,” Robbins says. “Our team is acutely aware of ROI concerns. Our physicians often press us for proof that using social media works.” Social-media experts advise patience before trying to define social-media ROI in terms of increased sales. Ramsey Mohsen of Digital Evolution Group, a full-service Web consultancy, reminds his own clients that using social media is, first and foremost, about creating communities and sharing information. “A big pitfall is trying to tie a direct line to revenue and sales data before you first build your online community,” Mohsen says. “You need to establish that baseline. Engage your community first, then sell. You have to earn the right, the credibility, and the trust. Using social media takes a lot of work up front.” Inland Imaging and Charlotte Radiology track social-media analytics, but they try to keep the results in perspective. For example, Russell points out that while Charlotte Radiology has had success with Facebook ads, you have to keep a balance. “A vein-services ad might make a million impressions in your area,” she says, “but how does that translate to actual clicks on your website? You have to track all that.” Inland Imaging tracks several reporting measures, but finds that most of them come with limitations and are difficult to link directly to ROI. For example, discovering whether social-media posts have led to increased MRI exams is nearly impossible. Instead, Inland Imaging prefers to track successful content that leads to online conversations and increased website traffic. “The best analytics help you find out what messages resonate with patients,” Clear says. Future Goals On one hand, Inland Imaging and Charlotte Radiology have already come a long way with social media. On the other hand, the journey has left both practices aware of how rapidly this outreach strategy is evolving. The social-media team at Charlotte Radiology has several goals for the future. These include exploring ways to get the practice’s breast-health patients to react and engage online (through compelling content, giveaways, polls, and so forth), expanding content beyond breast and vein services, and considering topic- and keyword-tracking software that makes sure that the practice is joining in on key conversations in the right forums. At Inland Imaging, Pyrc believes that social media’s importance will only grow—especially as younger generations age and start to need more imaging services. “Using social media is not fun or playing around,” she says. “It’s a serious discipline that’s even being taught at the college level. It’s another key in the marketer’s tool kit, just as television or radio is. It needs to be respected.” Pyrc’s recommendation for other practices is to jump into social media and start exploring. “Using social media might give you some growing pains along the way,” she says, “but you can’t plug your ears and ignore social media, either.” Maril Hazlett, PhD, is a contributing writer for ImagingBiz.com.