Social media is changing – Catherine Harriss looks at the implications and possible impacts in private practice.
Social media, where users are encouraged to create and share news, updates and content with one another, has now become a way of life for many.
Never more so are images being shared, videos being watched and interesting content discussed. Social media is evolving more than ever from a marketing tool into a business strategy for private practice.
Changes in the Facebook algorithm earlier this year mean that paid advertising will be given precedence and the prediction that organic posts will be pushed out of sight will become a reality.
Basically, Facebook has more content than it can handle and, as a consequence of its income model, this means it is encouraging more paid advertising and allowing more paid advertising to be seen in social streams over free content.
So why does this matter? It matters because to continue doing what was always done means that a significantly smaller number of people will see what is being posted.
It seems that once you located where your potential customers were, it was relatively easy to communicate with them.
Increasingly, it will become necessary to pay in order to get found and seen.
Promoting posts through paid advertising can generate around a tenfold increase in the number of people seeing your content.
But it obviously costs and I am sure that many people will have concerns spending their money in this way. However, investing correctly in your private practice can see significant dividends.
If a website is performing well, then it should be attracting new business. A new visitor should be encouraged to complete a form of inquiry so that the process of meeting their needs can begin.
Over this coming year and beyond, people will gradually adopt new methods of making inquiries and they will instinctively seek the easier option.
Times are changing. For example, it is now possible to buy products directly from Twitter and to purchase directly from Pinterest.
In essence, people will very easily get used to being able to get what they want, instantly. Facebook even has a hidden payment feature in its Messenger app ready to be put to use whereby people can send money to each other via Facebook.
It is important that new technologies and approaches are examined, tested and adopted if they can help expand private practice.
Reviews are so important. This has been discussed here in Independent Practitioner Today before. During this year, Google stars (review ratings) are going to take precedence as Google plus becomes more local.
Those with Google stars will find themselves ranked higher than those without stars in the expanded local listings that are anticipated. The possession of Google stars does improve the click through rate (CTR) to your site.
Seeking reviews, feedback and testimonials will become more important if you want to be valued above and against your competitors.
Social customer service
Improved customer service from social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter mean that responses are often handled far more quickly than by email.
As these conversations are public, customer relationships are improved and customers are given the information they want when they want it and in a format they can use.
Of course, there are ways to send individuals private messages. Doing so quickly indicates that you are listening and aware of their concerns, leading you to make improvements where appropriate.
With the increased access to information and customer service via social media, many are demanding more transparency.
‘Truly social brands will listen to what customers are saying and feeling and use that insight to adapt and create products and services,’ says Kelly Colbert, director of strategic advertising at insurer WellPoint.
Research conducted by PwC’s Health Research Institute, back in 2012, revealed that patients are now seeking answers to their healthcare concerns on social media to self-diagnose, get a second opinion on a recently diagnosed illness or to gain support from people suffering from the same conditions in the wider community.
This certainly matches my experience of patients increasingly using social media to seek answers over the past year.
In the same PwC survey, 80% of individuals between the ages of 18-24 were found to be likely to share health information through social media and trust that same medical information. And they do – I see it every day.
Your private practice may not be exactly targeted at this group, but make a start and this age group could soon be part of your typical patient profile. Investment now will lead to accurate knowledge, professional guidance and a higher profile.
The importance of social customer service is that you need to be monitoring your conversations, or those that you need to be aware of or involved in, and this is best done via social media as well as a well optimised website.
For example, Cancer Research UK listens and monitors all its social media channels and the information it obtains informs and influences policies and campaigns.
Brighton and Hove Maternity Services Liaison Committee has a Facebook page to answer people’s questions to help them get the best from local maternity services. So define your online professional profile, monitor it daily and provide help and advice.
Due to the exponential use of social media, there is a growing emphasis to make a greater effort to engage with people.
What is it that makes an experience meaningful? What will stay in people’s minds and what do people want to talk about?
Telling stories about others’ experiences is a great way. Having open lines of communication also helps significantly to create positive experiences. We already know that more than 41% of people are influenced by social media as to their choice of specific doctor, hospital or medical facility (PwC HRI Social Media Consumer Survey).
Mediabistro identified that 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health, and 54% of patients reported being very comfortable with their providers seeking advice from online communities to better treat their conditions.
Sixty per cent of social media users are the most likely to trust social media posts and activity by doctors over any other group.
So many trust the reliability of crowd-sourcing information from other like-minded individuals. So what conversations are you having with your potential private patients? How are you building relationships online?
Answering people’s questions
People ask questions every day so there is greater emphasis to ensure that those questions are answered, are in the public domain and in a format that is understood.
Online interactions are not about discussing whether a procedure is appropriate for someone to undertake but whether the information provided is relevant for the customer/patient. How relevant is your information?
Your words are your currency and tell the world who you are. They also build relationships and are a form of customer service enabling them to consider coming to you. Your focus should be on accurately informing people about the health-related issues in your field so as to outshine misleading information.
Wearables and apps
These are rapidly expanding sectors that will impact on us or may already be doing so.
On a personal level, we may have come across many different types of wearable fitness-trackers. We may also have encountered apps for weight monitoring, diet and calories consumed and activities completed plus many, many more besides.
In addition to these, there will be an explosion of more sophisticated accessories. For example, hair slides that identify the amount of ultraviolet exposure received on a summer’s day, headphones that also monitor heart rate and shirts that track biometric data.
The market leaders (Microsoft, Google and Apple) have all launched their own health kits, with some being linked to GP systems already and feeding back data.
Customers and patients are wanting to be more informed and are finding ways to do so as is shown by the speed at which crowd-funding projects for new wearable technologies are obtaining their funding goals.
For example, a new product measuring heart rate, exercise load, resting heart rate, recovery rate and other biometrics reached its funding goal of $50,000 in just over five days. This is for a disposable patch, replaced daily: all aimed at providing information for the user.
Equally, those fitness trackers already available on the high street are becoming more affordable and more accessible. Whether or not wearables are accurate or not is not the question at the moment; their accuracy will be proven in time.
Meanwhile, the user will make the assumption that they have useful data and understand their body in a way they have not before. What is important is that they could be making an impact on your private practice, by choice or demand.
Their impact on social media and healthcare is already evident. Some fitness apps are linked to forums where users discuss health, weight and diet issues.
Others give live feeds of activity taking place and encourage ‘cheers’ via social media. Such groups of people are accessible and online, seeking information to aid them.
Social media is becoming more sophisticated and more demanding, requiring a transparency and constant involvement.
It will always be difficult to measure the return on investment of social media activity because the baseline is constantly evolving. By moving with the times and using social media, potential private patients will be more informed than they have ever been.
Social media activity will ultimately impact on how customers integrate with information that they accumulate and that which they find elsewhere, and if your voice is that one they refer to, then you will be the one who they turn to.
Catherine Harriss (right) is the founder of MultiWorksMarketing.co.uk, specialising in medical private practice marketing and management