Social media helps doctors manage their online reputation

Once a provider realizes the increasing importance of building and managing their online reputation, they need some practical tools and steps. Bear in mind, I am writing this, not for the small percentage of physicians already active with social media, but rather for those of you giving it consideration and looking for some practical advice.

Common techniques for managing one’s online reputation include:

1. Creation of new content – involvement in social media (blogs, Medscape Connect, iMedExchange, Sermo, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Flikr, Picassa)
2. Promotion of existing positive content
3. Building social profiles (Google Profiles, iMedExchange, LinkedIn, ZocDoc, Doximity etc.)

There is a commonly accepted metric for activity within social networking communities that suggests only 1% of participants create original content, 9% respond and engage around that content and 90% lurk. Indeed there is nothing wrong with lurking, observing, learning etc. However, in so far as building and managing your reputation, you have to contribute to make an impact. Think of this as similar to attending a conference … most folks sit in the audience and listen to speakers. In between talks they may discuss the talk or approach the speaker directly. The value they receive from the information gleaned at the conference allows them to be a better provider. The social media world is very similar. Know your audience. You do not have to be a contributor or active participant on every site or in every “Tweetchat” to build a reputation with your intended audience. There are more echo chambers in social media created by small groups chatting back and forth adding marginal value to anyone and certainly not building credibility within circles that matter to most participants personally or professionally.

Consider websites, online community platforms etc as additional tools in your professional toolbox. Some require a regular commitment of usage and others are more periodic. If you ask 10 people which tools you should use you will likely get 10 different answers. Below are my suggestions based on first-hand interaction with hundreds of physicians across the country from all specialties and practice types.

The 5 key steps for online reputation management

1. Goals

Set simple goals to start (know the audience you care about). Part of that goal should be figuring out how to best represent yourself. What is your “brand?” In other words, what are the things and/or subject matters you care most about. In all likelihood those are a strong indication of how you want to represent yourself.

Sample starting points:

a)   I want to build my online reputation with fellow specialists because I want to be considered a thought leader and be asked to speak at conferences and contribute to journals.
b)   As a GP I want to maintain my role as an influencer within my community.

2.  Profiles

(Google Profile and possibly LinkedIn) – This is a category that will undergo significant change for physicians over the next 6 months. I bifurcate profiles that are designed for physician facing audiences (private, secure) from those that are public or patient facing (get indexed by search engines and render results in Google, Bing etc.). To date, the sites that generate even a modicum of physician traffic (almost exclusively private, professionally focused sites) operate with screen names and as a result are useless for reputation management.

You can create a simple Google profile (obviously this is a public facing profile) with very little effort and stake your initial online territory. The profile is the starting point for all references to you, so think of it a little like your online CV… only consider making it a little more personable. I provide a qualified listing of LinkedIn because the tool is not really designed for physicians and doesn’t provide much value to physicians unless you are also active in business oriented activities outside of your clinical work. There are a lot of other tools that provide profiles, but at this point the value provided in exchange for maintaining a profile in most of these places is negligible.

3.  Blogs

(Posterous or Tumblr) – A blog is effectively the new personal web site. Tools like Posterous and Tumblr are incredibly easy to set up and manage. You don’t have to create a lot of original content, especially if you don’t have the time. If original content is not in the cards at this juncture, simply post information you come across that you think would be useful for your audience. Take it one step further and wrap a few personal thoughts around the content to explain why you think its valuable. Going back to your goals/intended audience, this content may be patient oriented or oriented to your areas of expertise and intended for colleagues in your field.

Note: don’t waste your time or money on a “personal web site” at this juncture. They cost money to have created and to maintain and they are stagnant = dead. A good blog is a better start.

4. Twitter

(Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Twitbird) I almost hesitate to list Twitter because the signal to noise ratio can be exhausting. That said, with a few basics under your belt, you can make use of this tool and expand your listening and outreach. I will be providing tips for Twitter usage in a work currently in progress. Suffice it to say, the tool is very different depending on the intended use. Create an account (profile) and begin to follow content contributors you respect. Think of Twitter less as a communication platform than a learning platform. There are exceptions to that rule of thumb, but your best use of Twitter for now will be to do a lot more listening than talking. (Note: if you want to see an example of a lively “Tweetchat”, search the hashtag “#hcsm” on a Sunday night at 9PM EST, have a nice glass of wine at the ready, sit back and watch the conversation flow.)

5. Facebook

Avoid it as a professional tool! I don’t mean avoid it altogether. This is THE 800 lb guerilla of platforms for personal interactions and connections. There are some well suited professional uses for Facebook that include hospital outreach to patients, groups created around health oriented causes and so forth. However, there is no merit that outweighs the potential issues associated with using Facebook for professional connections. This includes creating a Facebook Fan Page for your practice. The number of “Fans” signed up for your practice Facebook page is worth less than the 6 month-old copy of Sports Illustrated in your waiting room. Again, there are always exceptions to the rule, but you should have a really compelling reason to think you are among the exceptions and not the rule.

Yes, there is a lot more out there in the land of social media. Small steps. Get comfortable with these few. They are the biggies and will give you the most bang for the buck (buck = time) for now.

Tobin Arthur is CEO and founder of iMedExchange and blogs at his self-titled site, Tobin Arthur.

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