A growing number of hearing care practices hope to harness the power of social media to draw new patients through their doors, but aren’t sure how to use it. If you are a social media novice, this article offers some “best practices” and tips to get you started on the right path.
First, consider social media’s influence: Did you know that 80% of internet users are online to search for medical information, and this group spends most of their time on social networks like Facebook and Twitter? If your practice is active on social networks, these end-users could be future patients!
If you don’t yet have a strategy in place for using social media (including blogs and other online portals that share healthcare information) then you’re missing out on a great, low-cost opportunity for patient outreach.
Want an easy way to get started using social media for your practice? Consider becoming a CareCredit provider. CareCredit offers its enrolled providers a social media tool, including a list of “sample” tweets and Facebook blurbs that hearing health professionals can use. To learn more about becoming a “CCpro” and accessing this free resource and other tools in the CareCredit Professionals Toolbox, visit CareCredit.com.
Meanwhile, here are some tips for taking your business to the next level with social media.
Tip #1: Set a goal & know your audience
First, figure out the main purpose of your social media posts. For example, do you want to create awareness, or maybe become known as an expert in your field? These goals set the foundation of your strategy, which can be refined over time.
- “Most entrepreneurs and small business owners jump into social media without any thought of the strategy—without any thought of what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, or what objective you have for using social media,” states Dr. Brad Semp, who offers an online course in Social Media for Business through the LA Public Library. Bernie Stoltz, an acclaimed motivational speaker who coaches healthcare providers, recently stated at a symposium co-hosted by CareCredit and The Hearing Review, “Having an online presence—including social media, and particularly Facebook—is not a ‘should’ for healthcare practices, it is a ‘must.’ If your practice isn’t doing that, then you’re missing out on about 50% to 70% of your market.”
- Rather than just promoting your practice in an online post (that reads more like an advertisement), use social media to share insightful information about hearing health (ie, hearing aids). You can post to share helpful information, even if the underlying reason for doing this is to bring in new patients. Why not, for example, inform readers of the prevalence of hearing loss in people with diabetes? An outcome of this post may be that you attract more patients who have diabetes along with signs of hearing loss.
Next, define your audience. For example, do you want to draw in seniors or middle-aged adults with diabetes? Or, is your goal to reach out to everyone in the community, young and old? Once you know who you want to reach with your posts, you will know when to target them with a specific message and when to position yourself as an “authority” on hearing health issues.
Tip #2: Choose the right platforms & post compelling, timely content
Social networks focus on different things, so pick the right one to fit your needs. An Instagram account focuses on pictures and may be better suited for a fashion designer (but may not be right for your practice).
For starters, hearing health professionals should probably just focus on two or three – including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Facebook: Patients can read news and “how-to” facts, ask questions about hearing aid products, or view video from you.
YouTube: Through your posted videos, potential patients can get a glimpse of your personality and expertise, and learn more about the services your practice offers.
Twitter: This helps build interest. Users who follow a link posted with your “tweet” could connect to a blog on your website (eg, that you update regularly with helpful data on hearing health).
Content is “king”: In addition to choosing the right social media networks, it’s important to post valuable content regularly. In this way, you are viewed as a resource, and on the path to engaging future patients.
Tip #3: Don’t “over-share” and maintain your quality
Keep an eye not only on posting engaging content, but also on how you post (in other words, keep the quality high). While it’s fun to post an occasional humorous video, you need to ensure your material is accurate and professionally presented, with correct spelling and grammar!
Be sure to keep “tone” in mind. How does your content come across to your intended audience? Are you complaining? Are you negative or repetitive?
- Aim to stay upbeat and professional.
- Give potential patients (and existing ones) reasons to engage.
- There’s a world of difference between over-sharing and encouraging sharing. By allowing patients to comment, it gives them the chance to feel valued and connected.
When your patients feel that they are participating, it helps strengthen the provider-patient relationship. By offering a forum for patients to ask questions—without necessarily having an appointment—it allows them to stay updated about your services and determine affordability. When patients have reasons to engage, they are more likely to do so—and more likely to choose your practice first when their need for a hearing health service or product arises.
Since most social media users are looking for information while trying to build online relationships, your practice can join in by:
- “Tweeting” or posting about articles you have on your website that offer educational information users may find helpful, such as a list of signs to look for that may indicate a hearing loss, along with a few facts about hearing loss in the United States (from reliable sources).
- Facebook “sharing” about blogs that offer more personal, engaging information about staff members at your practice, to help connect with people.
- Check how other practices in your market are using Twitter before you start tweeting links to your website, or sharing via Facebook. Are they retweeting news? Do their Facebook shares include links to videos?
Why use social media?
Improve your customer service. Patients now have more options when it comes to choosing a practice. They want to find providers who make the effort to engage with them and be helpful. Social media can make inroads in these areas.
Discover your patients’ needs and wants. Your practice can get insightful feedback—both good and bad—via messaging through your social media channels.
Use social media insights to improve and target your services. Through social media, providers can find out what patients are willing to do to resolve their hearing issues, and what obstacles they are facing. Social media could also offer a new way to track health trends, according to Jason Hwang, MD, an internist and executive director of healthcare at the Innosight Institute, a San Francisco-based research organization. He notes that providers could use social media to see what their patients are discussing and then “target those hot spots with certain therapies or interventions.”
Check out the competition. Use social media to compare your products and services with others, and see what competitors’ patients are talking about. You can gauge their patients’ satisfaction level…which gives you a chance to learn from competitors’ mistakes.
Some hearing health practices may be wary of possible “legal risks” associated with this form of patient-provider interaction. But social media could actually help alleviate barriers and answer patients’ general questions, saving time and effort. For instance, you could invite patients to send their questions and get answers in “layman’s terms” – to help them learn about important facts. You might assign one person in the practice to spend certain work days or hours managing your social media accounts and answering patient questions.
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) puts out guidelines for using social media – and includes what would likely trigger an investigation. Here’s a summary of some key points in the FSMB Report: Don’t post photos of patients without their consent; don’t inappropriately contact a patient (ie, via a Facebook message or public tweet), and don’t violate patient confidentiality by posting information that has possible identifiers.
On the other hand, Price Waterhouse Coopers published a report about what patients want regarding social media: More than 60% said they would trust information posted on social media by health care professionals; over 70% said they would like help from doctors via social media, including referrals.
Social media can serve as a wonderful marketing and communication tool for your practice that expands your online presence. However, if tackling social media for your practice feels overwhelming, consider working with a company like CareCredit that provides social media resources and guidelines as part of its service to members. This can save you lots of time and potential missteps.
Keep this helpful rule of thumb from another hearing care provider in mind: “To make sure I don’t breach any patient confidentiality rules, as a provider I never initiate a medical conversation with a patient online. If a patient brings a question to me, however, there are ways to answer it without violating the patient’s privacy.”
One way to tackle medical questions online: a practice owner who is active on social media could opt to post a blog that answers a health question, but in a general way to a broad audience, and then share a link to the blog via social media. As motivational coach Stoltz says, “Facebook is the 500-pound gorilla of social media, and sharing your content that way can do a lot for your practice.”