Social Media and the Radiology Practice: Initiating a Strategy
This article is the second in a three-part series. To read the first article in the series, click here. For radiology practices contemplating adding social media to their marketing initiatives, a multitude of free platforms can help build engaged audiences, both among patients and fellow health-care professionals (including referrers). Key to initiating the process is proper preparation, and this includes adopting the best practices of other health-care organizations, as well as developing a strategic plan for leveraging social outlets. Ramsey Mohsen is social director of Digital Evolution Group, a full-service digital consultancy. “Do a little research,” he recommends “Observe peers in your field, such as Mayo Clinic. Evaluate good and bad examples. Look for individual thought leaders who are already experimenting with social media. Assess how they do it. Figure out where you fit.” Thomas Greeson, JD, a health-care lawyer with the firm Reed Smith, recommends developing an internal policy to govern social-media use. “All legal risks can be dealt with by developing a solid social-media policy and responsibly monitoring and responding to your pages and feeds,” he says. He adds that social-media policies should include, at a minimum, decisions about who posts, as well as what kind of content (and communication style) is appropriate; he also emphasizes that health-care professionals should use social media to have public conversations with communities instead of private conversations with patients. “Focus on disease and issue education, rather than on individual health concerns. Sharing your general knowledge—for example, about the value of diagnostic imaging and disease prevention—makes you a good citizen,” Greeson says, “or post photos of your charity activities. This sort of post creates no legal risk.” Additional tips from the Mayo Center for Social Media on developing a social media policy can be accessed on its website. They include the fact that information posted online is difficult to scrub (thanks to search-engine caching), meaning that a judicious approach is best. Greeson notes that organizations put themselves at risk by engaging in direct physician–patient conversations about individual health problems and by making false and/or derogatory comments. “Part of the policy should be to make no particularized comments about anyone,” Greeson says. Picking Platforms New social-media platforms seem to pop up every day, while others fade from relevance just as quickly; for instance, Myspace, once the most visited social-media site on the Web, is now shedding staff and revenue as its user base continues to plummet. Determining which platforms are right for a radiology practice can represent a challenge. One commonly heard statement is that everyone needs to be on Facebook. Social-media choices, however, should be based on where the target audience spends time online. Searching imaging-related keywords on different social-media platforms will reveal where valuable conversations are occurring; for example, specialists in sports medicine might find sports fans and athletes on Twitter, while specialists in women’s health might find strong audiences through Pinterest. Different social-media tools are suited to different audiences, and a qualified social-media strategist can help a practice evaluate its options. Part of the plan also depends on the practice’s marketers and their capabilities because they will act as messengers to different audiences. “You must really understand who you are,” Mohsen says. “Understand your own strengths and weaknesses.” For example, a radiology-practice marketer might connect especially well with other health-care providers, but less well with patients. One solution might be to have someone else in the practice communicate with that audience. Kim Longeteig of Ali’i Marketing and Design, which specializes in working with radiology clients, points out LinkedIn’s potential for helping physicians to connect with their peers. “That PowerPoint presentation you gave, that case study you published—post them on LinkedIn,” she says. “Then post an update letting other physicians in your network know that the information is there and that they can view it on their own time. Acting as a resource for referring physicians and giving them meaningful information that can help them treat their patients: Those are valuable.” Developing Content The next challenge for radiology practices is content development for social media. Content should vary according to the social-media platform being used, but one principle should always be observed: Using social media is about community building through the sharing of valuable information, rather than directly pushing services or increasing revenue. For this reason, Mohsen recommends a 4:1 ratio, with four pieces of content not related to the promotion of your business are shared for every piece of content that does promote the organization. “Using social media means creating communities, conversations, and relationships by providing solid, reliable content frequently,” Longeteig says. “Leveraging radiologists’ knowledge into the social sphere is key. When you offer resources and commentary that connect with patients’ needs, you are giving your practice a human face.” Mohsen adds, “A good content strategy is to create or commission valuable information. Find out what is most helpful to your audience, then take your expertise and provide the information.” Longeteig offers several recommendations for creating compelling and valuable content. Emotional connections can be made by discussing patients’ concerns and showing how imaging can help; posts that use patients’ testimonials or other narratives are valuable. The simplest possible language should be used when explaining techniques, conditions, or procedures. Consistently generating this material takes work, of course, and Mohsen says that many organizations do not fully comprehend the magnitude of marketing through social media. “Social-media streams move very quickly,” Mohsen says, “and you have to feed the beast to get results.” To lessen the content burden, Mohsen recommends looking for high-quality content that can be shared, or “creating conversation by curation,” he says. “If you become a great aggregator of technical information, people will love it and expect it from you.” In addition, Mohsen notes, creating social-media conversations requires more than one-way sharing or curating of interesting information; radiology organizations must also invite and respond to feedback. “Ask ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Do you agree?’” he says. “Asking shows you are open to what other people think. An expert who is willing to engage—to have a discussion—makes a strong impression.” Negative Feedback Of course, initiating conversations and inviting feedback can also lead to negative comments or bad reviews being shared in the very public social-media space. For this reason, Greeson recommends that an organization’s social-media administrator be prepared with a sufficient understanding of how to handle inappropriate content. “Your social-media administrator should be very familiar with the controls and the ability to delete and hide comments, in case of inappropriate or abusive material,” he says. If the comment is simply negative, however, Greeson recommends that instead of deleting it, practices consider posting a helpful and constructive response, demonstrating strong customer service and the ability to handle negative feedback with poise. “The best form of community participation is an open page with free exchange of information and ideas,” he says. “An open page might result in some occasional negative feedback, but it also gives you the ability to receive unsolicited praise, positive testimonials, and support from patients.” Maril Hazlett, PhD, is a contributing writer for ImagingBiz.com.