October 2019


What ophthalmologists should be doing today
Embracing social media in a practice

by Ellen Stodola EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer/Meetings Editor


Social media can be a valuable tool for an ophthalmology practice in terms of reviews, raising brand awareness, and more. Ryan Miller, Carrie Jacobs, COE, and Hayley Boling, MBA, COE, discussed some of the pros and cons of social media, how to encourage patients to leave reviews, how to deal with negative reviews, and strategies for growing social media use.

Social media pros and cons

Many clinics underestimate the time and expertise to excel on social media, Mr. Miller said. “Clinics should ensure that social media contributors are adequately trained in HIPAA and the protocols needed to both protect patient privacy and limit practice liability.”
Today, social media is as much about exposing the human side of your clinic as it is about the careful deployment of paid social advertising, he said. “Popular social platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, severely limit the circulation of a business’ social posts,” Mr. Miller added. “To reach prospects, clinics must carefully build target audiences and test advertising to ensure a positive investment return.”
He also said that for clinics that can avoid privacy pitfalls and expertly execute paid advertising campaigns, social media offers a cost-effective way to attract new refractive patients.
The pros of social media are endless, Ms. Jacobs said, including that it’s an inexpensive way to reach your marketplace. “The targeting you are able to do now demographically with postings has made social media marketing a no-brainer approach to round out your traditional marketing efforts,” she said. “Your followers’ and fans’ posts about your practice and experiences are invaluable.” Authenticity is what drives the bus, she added, and you just don’t get that from traditional marketing efforts.
“There are not many cons to social media,” Ms. Jacobs said. “But I would say that if you think it’s easy, it’s not. It is work!” Ideally you would have someone committed to handling the social media in your practice, she said. “You can’t be the occasional poster,” she added. “You need a social media plan and have it thought out based on what is happening in the market, in your practice, in the world, and be willing to change it up should something big happen.” Ms. Jacobs recommended deciding which major platforms you want to be on and consistently posting on them.
As with every business “opportunity,” there are pros and cons to social media as well, Ms. Boling said. “The obvious pros would be the ability to grow your practice’s overall brand awareness/reach through low cost, direct-to-consumer marketing efforts,” she said. “Lesser known pros would be the pinpoint accuracy to which you can segment the market you’re trying to reach as well as developing/nurturing community engagement and dialogue through intentional, real-life, personality-filled posts.”
The biggest con, she said, would be the need to monitor your social reputation at all times. If someone engages negatively, it’s important to have a proactive plan in place ahead of time to address the comment publicly—to show that you’re on top of it and working to resolve the issue—as well as professionally while not violating HIPAA or other privacy policies.
Ms. Boling said another potential con could be that a practice might spend money on brand awareness through social media that never directly results in a single patient coming through the door or scheduling an appointment. However, she said not to worry. “This is a way to spread your positive message, build community engagement, show off the unique personality/culture of the practice, and bring the practice out into the community.”

Where social media makes a difference

Social media can attract prospective patients and affirm their decision to choose your clinic, Mr. Miller said. “Effective posts, ads, and promotions will allow you to reach prospects unfamiliar with your clinic,” he said. “Patient feedback and your own participation in the social conversation can make you look like a smart choice for their care.”
Ms. Jacobs said that social media can help build awareness and community, but you can also use it to promote optical sales and trunk shows or specials that may be happening in the practice. You can make announcements such as a grand opening or if the office will be closed, she added. “We’ve also used social media to promote job openings in the practice,” Ms. Jacobs said. “Really, there is no reason not to utilize social media in almost every area of the practice.”

Encouraging patients to share positive experiences

First, you just have to ask, according to Ms. Jacobs. “Everyone in the practice should be empowered to ask and know what platforms you are on,” she said, adding that it’s important to make it easy for the patient.
“Our appointment cards have all of our social media sites on the back with an ask to share their experience,” she said. After an appointment, patients receive an electronic survey to complete about their experience that also links to Facebook, and Twitter. “Recently we also integrated cards with QR codes that the patient can scan and quickly do an online review,” she said.
Ms. Boling said one thing her practice has learned is that “if you want positive reviews from your happy patients, you have to ask them directly.”
Unlike business pages, posts on personal social media accounts still enjoy broad circulation, Mr. Miller said. “For this reason, it’s more important than ever to encourage patients to share their positive experiences with your practice.” Facebook and Instagram empower patients to share both a numerical rating and text review of their experience in your clinic, he said, adding that email and text reminders are important, but a personal request for patients to share their experience online may be the most effective strategy.
While it’s possible that patients will spontaneously share their experience, more formal testimonial programs will yield better results, he said. “For some clinics this means professional filming sessions several times each year,” he said. “For others, social contests can motivate patients to talk about you online. But clinics must take care to observe FTC guidelines and avoid directly compensating patients for reviews.”

How to handle a negative social media post

Ms. Boling said she recommends that every practice develop a proactive plan and be sure to respond, even if the poster’s perception of the events is not accurate. It’s important to be intentional about having a plan to disengage on a post that isn’t going to be productive. There are times that someone will try to “argue” their point. “This is why we typically try to take a proactive approach from the beginning by acknowledging the comment, apologizing for their experience, and letting them know that someone from the practice is going to be reaching out to them directly to discuss further,” Ms. Boling said. “We always remind them of what our practice mission is and that we look forward to the opportunity to turn their experience around in the future.”
Negative social media will happen, Ms. Jacobs said. “You’re dealing with the public and you cannot make everyone happy,” she said. The key is to acknowledge the post and apologize that you fell short on delivering the service they were expecting. You can offer to speak to the patient offline, but never engage in combat or disagree with the comment because this will only inflame the situation more. “If you have hundreds of positive comments and one negative, it makes the negative experience seem unusual,” she said. “If you have many negative comments then this is an opportunity to look inside and fix whatever problem there may be within the practice.”
Clinics have the power to remove or block content from their own pages, but not from the wider social media ecosystem, Mr. Miller said, suggesting that clinics should employ monitoring software to rapidly detect mentions of their brand and doctors so they don’t miss critical online conversations. “When negative commentary is detected, clinics must remember that they will be judged as much for how they handle the situation as the commentary itself,” he said. “We advise our clients to take a measured position, to keep HIPAA top of mind, and to reply only once with an invitation for the person responsible for the post to contact the clinic directly for support.”

Dedicating staff to social media

According to Mr. Miller, clinics today need a staff member responsible for their social media. “This member of the team can produce the authentic photo and video content needed to succeed on social media today, and whether they personally run social advertising or supervise the clinic’s agency, they can ensure that the targeting and investment return are on track,” he said.
Ms. Jacobs said that having a dedicated individual or individuals in your practice helps to quickly execute and work with the rest of the staff to get content out and manage the analytics of the data. However, if your practice cannot support this dedicated individual or doesn’t have someone who has the capacity to do it, she suggested outsourcing. There are many companies that will manage social media typically on a monthly retainer arrangement, Ms. Jacobs said. “It’s better to utilize an outside source as needed than not to be present online at all,” she added.
Ms. Boling agreed that it would be ideal to have an individual dedicated to social media for the practice. “I am a big believer that no one knows your practice’s voice better than someone who works inside the practice on a daily basis,” she said.

At a glance

• For practices who want patients to share positive reviews, the most important thing to do is just ask. Asking a patient directly may be more successful than relying on happy patients to spontaneously supply a review.
• When dealing with negative social media posts, practices should have a plan. Acknowledging the comments and offering to speak to that person can be beneficial, but it’s important not to become combative or disagree, as this could make the situation worse.
• If possible, have someone in the practice dedicated to handling social media.

About the sources

Ryan Miller
Etna Interactive
San Luis Obispo, California

Carrie Jacobs, COE
Chu Vision Institute
Bloomington, Minnesota

Hayley Boling, MBA, COE
Boling Vision Center & INSIGHT Surgery Center
Northern Indiana

Relevant financial interests

: None
Jacobs: None
Miller: None

Contact information

Boling: HBoling@BolingVisionCenter.com
Jacobs: Carrie.Jacobs@chuvision.com
Miller: ryan@etnainteractive.com

Embracing social media in a practice Embracing social media in a practice
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