Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Blogs. Forums. Chat rooms. All of these are examples of online social media channels, and almost everybody has heard of them, even if they have never actually used them.
But what exactly IS social media, and why should we be interested as clinicians in private practice?
Social media has been variously defined, but I think the simplest way to think about it is a means by which people with similar interests can form groups and communicate with each other. So for example Facebook allows you to send messages and have conversations with friends as well as make new friends too. Blogs allow you to post a virtual diary and so form a community of people who are interested in what you do. Forums are virtual groups where people with similar interests/problems get together to discuss them. And with YouTube you can create a virtual TV station to which others with similar interests to you can subscribe and hear what you have to say. In short, social media is a way of allowing people with a common interest to join together, share information and form communities.
Now that’s all very well, but what relevance does this have to us?
Potentially a great deal, and for several reasons:
Birds of a feather…
People group together when they share something in common. That might be a shared interest (particular type of music/sport/political viewpoint for example) or might be a medical condition – hence forums where people with Multiple Sclerosis gather to provide mutual support. So for example if you wanted to ‘target’ overweight people in your private practice for a weight loss service, one way of doing so would be to have a presence on a forum for people trying to lose weight.
The power of attraction
Secondly, we buy products and services from people we like and trust - people we have a relationship with. That is why personal recommendation and referrals work so well. So if someone in a group or forum says good things about you other potential patients of yours hear about it – and this can allow you grow your practice very rapidly indeed.
What are people talking about?
Thirdly, social media allows us to discover what our potential patients are talking about – akin to listening in on many conversations at once. This allows us to enter into the conversation that is already going on, and this is a powerful way to connect with and to influence people – similar to striking up a conversation with a stranger at a party.
The power of celebrity
Finally social media can help you to achieve expert and even celebrity status, both of which are immensely valuable in becoming the go-to guy in treating a particular condition.
How do we use social media in a practical sense?
The aim of social media marketing is to aid us in forming relationships with groups of people that comprise our potential patients, and in this way to get seen as a trusted adviser and expert in that topic. In this way we too become part of that group and people are predisposed to consult with us.
The practical implementation of social media marketing depends upon the platform – Facebook, Twitter, or whatever – and we will consider how this is done in detail when we discuss those platforms specifically.
What if your target audience doesn’t exist as a group?
Firstly you might be surprised when you look – there are all sorts of unexpected social groups of people out there. Yet what if the group of people you want to target doesn’t exist as an organised group? For example, you are an orthopaedic surgeon and want to target people who have already had an ACL injury and repair because you want to offer a new service. Perhaps intensive physio and fitness training for people after an ACL reconstruction in the months before they go skiing again. Organised groups of these people probably don’t exist.
Yet two options exist: firstly you could gather these people to you from the groups that they are present in. So think where people with ACL injuries are likely to be found - in groups of skiing, rugby and gymnasts for example. You could would promote your service in these forums and in this way attract the people you want.
Secondly, the clever thing you can do is to create your OWN group of these people. Certain groups are very easy to create (such as professional groups on LinkedIn) but again how you would do this depends upon the social media platform - Facebook, Twitter etc.
This discussion of course has to be a general introduction only. The key thing is that social media is very powerful in terms of accessing groups of people with common interests. And once you have such a group that know, like and trust you, you can promote all sorts of services relevant to them. So in the example of the orthopaedic surgeon above, he could not only promote training and physio services to people in the run up to the skiing season this year but every year.
Author profile: Dev Lall
Dev Lall is an upper GI Surgeon from London with a reputation as the “Private Practice Expert” and serial entrepreneur.
Having left the NHS he now runs a specialist practice helping consultant colleagues to rapidly grow their private medical practices.
As an expert marketer but also a doctor himself, he understands the importance of professionalism and trust in the promotion of your private practice. Whilst everyone wants to maximise their income, it is about far more than just that – it’s about providing top quality care too.
Dev lives in London and loves cars, bikes, skiing and travel.