Marketing your practice with social media

Social media platforms have become a viable way for physician practices to market themselves, according to Neil Baum, MD, a nationally recognized urologist, speaker and author.

“There are a billion people on Facebook. So your reach is broader,” than more traditional methods of marketing, said Baum, who practices urology in New Orleans. He believes that social media platforms are as effective as more traditional marketing methods, but that social media “will take over in the near future.”

Baum is one of the authors of the book, “Social Media for the Health Care Profession: The New Shingle for Today’s Medical Practice,” which covers how physicians can leverage blogging, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms as a marketing tool to draw in new patients. Once a week, Baum spends a half hour writing a blog post that he pushes to his other social media sites. “It is easy to do this, and you are going to get more search engine optimization and more 'bang for your buck,'” he commented. Baum knows all about search optimization. Do a search on “vasectomy” and “New Orleans” and his practice comes up in the first three hits. Search optimization is all about “keywords, meta tags, links on your Web page. It is catchy titles and content and frequently posting,” he added.

Baum doesn't make any bones about it, “I pick a sexy topic…I ask [readers], 'would you like information on what do to if your sex drive is down?'” He engages his audience with topics like this on a regular basis and then asks them to take action in the form of sending their e-mail if they want more information. “I am converting them from a viewer to someone who is engaged in my website or blog.” Baum's social media presence has paid off: He says he sees three-to-five new patients a day because of it.

“I don't think you are losing anything by having a social media presence,” said Jenny Conviser, PsyD, co-director of Insight Psychological Centers and Inspire Health Centers in Chicago. Conviser and her staff are using Pinterest, a social media platform that acts as a virtual pinboard and is driven by photos. In 2012 Pinterest had 11.7 million unique users and became the third largest social network in the United States.

“Our intention [in using Pinterest] was to reach out to the population we see so much of – to communicate where they are. Our plan was to provide greater access where they are online. And the intention was to provide good, quality information that we have control over and that maintains privacy,” Convier explained.

Conviser added that Pinterest has been “enormously successful” for her organization. “It has provided another venue for providing good information about self care and health and wellness, and if we can reach a few people that is great,” she said.

“I think that if you do [social media] in healthcare you have to plan in the beginning what is your intention. If it is just to have a presence, then it requires very little cost and not that much time,” said Stephen Meyers, MD, a family physician in North Carolina and the founder of SmartMedSavings. However, Meyers cautioned, “I think the most that a medical practice could expect from social media is to have a recognized presence in the technology that people use today but not to expect it to create great returns in business and patients.”

Meyers is currently working on a project called CHASM: Cultivating Healthcare Affordability with Social Media – which he says is the first social media effort of its kind for education and collaboration on improving the quality of care and reducing healthcare costs. The project has given Meyers a lot of experience with social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but also with Google+. Meyers noted that Google+ is very similar to Facebook, but that currently there are “not enough people who are interested in health and wellness,” on it. “It is growing,” he added, “but it is slower,” than the other platforms. “Google has a lot of clout,” remarked Meyers, and given that and the fact that Google is pushing to integrate all of its services, the “presumption is that it is going to become of greater significance.”

Meyers said social media does have “potential for benefit,” but also commented that it is challenging for physicians to really engage with their patients while privacy issues still remain so rampant.