A simple social media plan any health care professional can use

If you listen to the discussions in health care circles about social media, you get the idea that social media is complicated, time consuming and a liability nightmare.


It’s not that hard and can actually be quite simple if you consider your options carefully and logically.

Let’s look at a simple social media plan any health care professional can use.

If you’re even considering using social media to market or connect with current and potential clients, you have a website. But do you have a blog?

A blog is the foundation of any social media plan. Your website and blog are your online “home base.” Without a blog, there really is no point in doing anything with social media.

Health care folks often fear the blog. Questions such as “What do we write?” come up often, as do these phrases of resistance, “I don’t have time!” and “I can’t write!”

Let’s address one at a time.

What do you write?

If you have a specialty, you write about that.  You can offer quick tips on how to manage stress, eat better, fit exercise into your daily routine, ways to start meditating.  Also, you can occasionally summarize recent research in your area of specialty.  Keep blog posts fact-based, informative and helpful to your readers.

“I don’t have time for this!”

Chances are good you do have time to blog. For instance, it is 6:30 AM and I am blogging right now.  There is down time in your day that you’re not using efficiently. Can you use some of that time?

The time commitment isn’t huge. I have seen health care blogs do well with one good post a week.  Finding time to write a few hundred words on a topic you’re an expert on shouldn’t be hard. If it is, you may want to examine your time management, or your motivation to do the work.

“I can’t write!”

Some people have difficulty writing. However, I find it hard to imagine that health care professionals, all of whom have advanced degrees and had to write a good deal to graduate, can’t write.

Here’s  a secret about blogging: it isn’t a thesis or dissertation. In fact, it should be the opposite of academic writing. Blog posts that are simple, straightforward and in casual language will be most helpful to your readers.

And don’t get hung up on making it perfect. Perfect doesn’t happen.

I have a blog, now what?

Once you have a blog, now you can add actual social media to your tool box.

I suggest you start with Twitter because it’s straightforward to use, has less room for liability issues and the format naturally limits how much people can engage with you.

Let’s unpack Twitter.

Twitter is a microblog that gives you 140 characters to tell people “What’s happening?” The beauty of Twitter is people can follow others who have similar interests or information that they want know. Anyone can customize their twitter stream to hear from just the people they want to hear. So if someone wants to learn more about managing their anxiety, they follow those who tweet about managing anxiety. Make sense?

It’s straightforward to use

Twitter gives you 140 characters in each tweet. That’s not a lot of words and that simplifies how you use it. This is how health care folks can use it best: write a blog post and tweet it to your followers with a link back to your blog. Easy, right?

If you want to get more advanced, find other related articles or blog posts and share those with your followers. Sprinkle in a few relevant quotes (I did a series of Mr. Rogers quotes a few years back that was  huge hit), a comment or two about your daily happenings and you have a cool Twitter stream. [There are more advanced ways to use Twitter, but this is a good place to start.]

Less room for liability

Anyone and everyone can follow anyone and everyone on Twitter. When someone follows me they may be interested in learning more about ADHD, autism, marketing, social media or they know me from my social circles.  Following me on Twitter doesn’t automatically identify someone as a client of mine. Also, since I am aware that clients might be following me, I keep my Twitter stream professional and do not tweet anything I wouldn’t want a client to know. Facebook, in my opinion, is more difficult to manage from a confidentiality standpoint, but that’s a topic for another post.

Limits on engagement

Health care professionals worry that if they engage in social media, clients will start using the platform to share their personal medical information. That’s hard to do in 140 characters.  Chances are slim that someone will start to share their most pressing health care issues on a platform that gives them 2 sentences at most to make their point.

[My social media caveat here: Never post any information about clients, even if identities are eliminated. Don't tweet their characteristics, presenting problems or even that people are sitting in the waiting room. There is NO liability if you never mention anything about clients directly or indirectly.]

So what is the point?

Why engage in social media?  My honest answer: to help as many people as you can by educating them about something you know lots about. Sharing that knowledge will improve people’s lives.

But once you start to help people in this way, an amazing thing happens: they start to see you as the “go to” person for information about their problem. When they see that you are knowledgeable and helpful, they will want to go to your for services, not the guy who the insurance company has on a list. You set yourself apart from “all those doctors/theraapists” and become someone they know and trust.

And that’s important when you want to offer programs and services that people pay for out-of-pocket.  We spend our money with people we like who we feel have something valuable to share.

So that’s the simple social media plan:

Blog → Twitter

Start there … we can get more complicated later.

Susan Giurleo is a psychologist who blogs at the BizSaavy Therapist.

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  • http://acowatch.com Gregg Masters

    Thanks for the de-mystification! Do agree, fwiw.

  • http://advocateyourself.blogspot.com Cheryl Handy

    Terrific post.

    In my experience, the best medical professionals are creative thinkers. Writing, engaging others in social media, reducing thoughts to 140 characters uses a part of the brain that forces creativity. And, that creativity cannot help but make a medical professional look outside the proverbial box when analyzing a patient in the clinical setting.

    Medicine is not all science – it is about the human being and it is an art.

    I also firmly believe that social media will benefit the medical profession in terms of the horrific medical malpractice issue. Patients will learn that physicians are humans and vice versa.

    On Dr Kevin’s Blog there have been respective, productive discussions on the med mal liability issue b/t physicians and non-physicians. I cannot imagine where else such discussions could take place.

    I will bookmark this particular post and force-feed it (gently) to reluctant medical professionals. Thank you.

  • http://seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org Wendy Sue Swanson, MD

    I agree with the Why.
    I don’t agree with the mechanics. I don’t think it’s a simple few hundred words a week. On top of a busy practice and a family life, I doubt many docs could churn out thoughtful posts in a matter of minutes. If the blog is the pulse of social media as you suggest, a doc will need to set aside significant time each week (hours).
    You’ll need hours to write and maintain a blog, particularly if you respond to timely news, new research, and provide opinions. And if your work to tell a story, it will take much longer…
    We need to find ways to secure time for docs to do this. We can’t keep adding to the to-do list for primary providers. It’s already far too long with uncompensated tasks.

    I wholly believe we need to light the fire to get more and more docs blogging. We need experts sharing opinions but adding blogging/tweeting/opining to their job descriptions without adding protected time isn’t fair or effective. Without a feasible plan for protected time; the argument to blog feels foolish.
    Until we figure out a way to integrate writing into the work day and protect time (pay) for thoughts and opinions, I fear the mass of doctors will stay in the wings.

    • Kevin

      Precisely Wendy Sue. It’s a point I’m going to make when I address the Texas Medical Association this Saturday. Connecting with patients online, if only to guide them to better sources of health information, needs to be a physician imperative. Protected time is key.


  • http://www.beautybusinessblueprint.com/ Robert Samuel

    Great article Susan. I know this is targeted toward the health care profession, but these are quite useful in other fields as well. :-)

  • http://www.eqhssmarterhealthcare.org Lisa Stansbury

    Thanks for the overview Dr. Giurleo, although I believe you left at least two important topics out, perhaps in the name of simplicity.

    1) evaluation. I’m the Director of Communications at a Medicare QIO and evaluating the impact of any communications intervention, espeically by a provider such as a physician, is a must-do. With all the blogs and twitter accounts in the sphere, it would be easy for a physician’s voice to be overlooked, at least for awhile. Which leads me to…

    2) setting a clear goal. What does the physician hope to do with the blog? Stating it in terms of specific, measureable impact will save time and trouble.

    BTW — there are many free tools available to help doctors benchmark their impact…www.klout.com and google analytics are just two quick examples.

    2) HIPAA compliance and privacy isn’t just about those who blog or tweet. Patients can leave their personal information in a blog comment, for example. My social media healthcare colleagues are very interested in the latest findings re: a physician’s potential liability in these cases.

    Thanks for the conversation. I believe there is a great deal more to be said in this arena and look forward ot following it.

  • http:/www.meredithgould.com Meredith Gould

    Like your post a lot, Susan, but wish to take exception (read: argue with) your assertion that any healthcare professional, by virtue of having an advanced degree, can write blog content. They can’t and generally don’t. Nor do I think they should.

    They’re neither educated nor trained to create compelling, easy-to-understand communications for online media. Working writers learn this craft on-the-job from editors who have no tolerance for the convoluted, jargon-laden junk that often passes for web-based healthcare content.

    In my rarely humble opinion, most physicians would be wise to hire an editorial services professional to tidy up (and possibly rewrite) their blog content before posting.

    Yes, I have strong opinions! Do they show…much?

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