March 26, 2009
SOCIAL MEDIA GURU TOM SMITH differentiates social media from advertising in this way: Advertising broadcasts to an audience, whereas social media talks with an audience. Whether that audience is potential patients, colleagues or friends, according to recent research, physicians are very active when it comes to tapping into the vast new media possibilities.
In fact, sixty percent of physicians are currently using or are interested in using physician-only online communities like Sermo, Medscape Physician Connect and PeerClip, according to Manhattan Research's Taking the Pulse v8.0 telephone and online 2008 survey of 1,832 practicing U.S. physicians.
According to Wendy Lewis, president, Wendy Lewis & Co. Ltd., Global Aesthetics Consultancy, http://www.sufo.org/ is a new, free physician-to-physician site that is growing globally to connect aesthetic doctors and expand medical education online.
Doctors are also likely to use today's top new media destinations, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, or start an online blog to stimulate conversation, according to Mr. Smith, creator of http://everythingability.com/. Mr. Smith is a U.K.-based consultant in usability, persuasive design and online branding.
ALL ABOUT CONNECTING In addition to using social media to promote themselves and what they do, physicians use social networks to connect with colleagues, discuss medical news and patient experiences, solicit feedback on treatment options and clinical advice and offer insights to one another, according to Erika S. Fishman, director of research, Manhattan Research, a New York City-based global market research and advisory services firm for global pharmaceutical and health care companies.
This virtual networking can ease some of the isolation of solo practice.
"Some networks, like Sermo and Medscape, allow physicians to poll each other, rate contributions, and access CME, journals and other professional resources. Sermo even features job boards and forums to build consensus on healthcare policies. Other sites, like iMedExchange and RelaxDoc, encourage the sharing of personal tidbits as well as professional information. In these communities, physicians can enjoy down time and share interests with colleagues, such as favorite TV programs to recommended wine picks," Ms. Fishman says.
Ms. Lewis contends that as magazines and newspapers are in a downward cycle, online media has become an attractive place to spend marketing dollars.
"We are recommending that practices think outside of the box in this economy and shift print advertising dollars to web-based marketing, [which] offers better return on investment in the long run. Print has a defined shelf life; the web has infinite space and opportunities without time or space time limitations," Ms. Lewis says.
GETTING ARMS AROUND SOCIAL MEDIA Social media, in its rawest form, has become anything that is on the Web that gets better when people use it, Mr. Smith says.
"A good example of early use of social media would be reviews on Amazon, where at one time it seemed superfluous and now it has become an essential part of people's buying process," he says. "Social media began with blogging at the turn of the Millenium. Then, in 2005, Facebook became the big social media...and now Twitter is a large component of what makes the social media."
WHERE TO START? Whether you look for a group of hamster lovers or physicians for socialized medicine, you will find an organized congregation of people talking about it. Closer to home, it's virtually guaranteed that people are talking right now on the Web about cosmetic surgery.
Surgeons who want to become more familiar with social media should first be proactive about finding online places where they would like to get involved in the chatter, according to Mr. Smith.
That means finding congregations of people and looking in on their communications. If your motive is to promote the practice, go to those sites that are most likely to attract the most people, such as YouTube, and find out what people are posting and saying.
"In terms of practices promoting themselves, at the moment, social media is one of the few ways that you can actually get out there and start talking to real customers about real things," Mr. Smith says.
Social media is an open book and an opportunity for sizing up the competition. Cosmetic surgeons can look in on what their competitors are saying and doing by conducting Google and other searches for blogs, videos and more.
Once they have proactively studied new media options, physicians should reactively filter out which would be the best use of their time, according to Mr. Smith. Some of that time might be allocated to talking with colleagues and friends, while other time is spent blogging (writing about or commenting on issues) and posting videos.
SELF DRIVEN Using social media is often free. But it tends to take precious time — your time. Mr. Smith guides his clients as to where they should concentrate their new media efforts, then empowers them to communicate. It is the cosmetic surgeon (not the ad agency or marketing professional), he says, who is best able to blog, educate potential clients, answer questions, stimulate conversations and more about cosmetic surgery.
People are hungry, he says, for the truth. And especially those that are immersed in new media shun blatant self-promotion and hype.
Flashy, high-quality productions and advertising take back seats to informative credible information, he says.
"You cannot just go in there and steamroller and say 'Woo! I am here!'" he says. "You would need to build up the trust of those people."
NO SITTING BACK AND LETTING IT WORK FOR YOU The physician drives social media activities, so you can't just sit back and wait for things to happen. Not only do physicians need to monitor who is saying what but they also need to respond to and stimulate conversation.
Another way to get people into your conversations and blogs is to provide content on topics that people are asking about. So, if you have a blog, fill it with meaningful content that answers commonly asked questions about the cosmetic surgeries you perform. That content will filter people who post queries on Google and other sites in your direction.
YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE Remember, this isn't a perfect world. In the spirit of free speech comes negativity, lies and more.
Experts warn that it's important that anyone posting on a blog or a social networking site understand the importance of not only accountability but also credibility and honesty. Unless you go on anonymously, you will forever by tied to what you said online. For example, chatting about how drunk you were the night before doing surgery or posting a picture that you would not want your patients to see is a big mistake — even if you are on Facebook, where you think only your "friends" might see it. The potential for exposure online is vast.
The reality is that people might try and tarnish your reputation on the Web. If, for example, a former patient gets on the Web and says a physician botched her cosmetic surgery. Mr. Smith says that the physician (after seeking advice from his attorney) should consider publicly resolving the accusation.
"At that point, you may actually win more customers," he says.
HERE TO STAY There is momentum behind the use of social media. While some of the larger medical communities, such as Sermo and Medscape Physician Connect, report upwards of 100,000 registered physician users, there is room for growth, according to Ms. Fishman. "Our research has shown that there is a significant group of physicians who report to be interested in physician online communities but have not yet joined one — indicating that these networks will continue to expand in coming years," Ms. Fishman says.
Social networking is the new way people in all industries and walks of life are communicating and processing information today, according to Ms. Lewis.
"...the sooner doctors take a crash course on it, the better off they will be positioned to thrive," she says.
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