By Joseph Neighbor
Perhaps no term captures the 21st-century zeitgeist quite like “social media.” Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, LinkedIn, Instagram—the ability to share across broad networks instantly, unfettered by geographic distance, has changed how we do business and transformed our interpersonal relationships. Now, online reviews and ubiquitous mobile communications change the way people connect with their doctors. Rating sites such as Healthgrades, ZocDoc, and Vitals increasingly affect the reputation of health care professionals and the success of their work.
Last week, ColumbiaDoctors and the CUMC Office of Communications presented “Social Media for Health Care Professionals.” The event featured presentations and panel discussions with social media experts: Columbia University Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan; the editorial director of MedPage Today, Ivan Oransky, MD; the former surgeon and anonymous writer who blogs under the name Skeptical Scalpel; P&S professor, oncologist, and popular blogger Azra Raza, MD; Tamar Schiller, DDS, MBA, of the College of Dental Medicine; Gina Czark, director of social media for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; and, from the CUMC Office of Communications, Chief Communications Officer Doug Levy and digital strategist Michele Hoos.
Presentations focused on the basics of social media, how the modern medical professional can and should be involved in social media, and how to avoid embarrassing social media interactions that can affect the reputation of both the professional and the institution.
Top 10 tips offered at the event:
1. Consider social media a dialogue, not a monologue. Many mistakenly think of social media as a broadcasting platform, yet it is most useful for promoting conversation. For example, responding to Tweets and mentioning people in your posts via their Twitter handle draws them—as well as their followers—into the conversation.
2. Understand that the impact of social media is not in who follows you but who follows who follows you. Though you may have only a few followers, the reach of your posts increases exponentially with each person who shares your material. Focus also on the quality of followers, not just numbers.
3. Share useful information. Our primary goal in social media is to educate, which means you should share information that people beyond CUMC may find useful. This could be a new scientific finding, health advice, commentary on a medical or science story in the news—and much more.
4. Accept that the line between professional and private is eroding. Even if your social media bio does not identify you as a Columbia University affiliate, anything you say or post online can damage both your reputation and Columbia’s. Do not rely on disclaimers to protect you or Columbia. Remember that patients and research subjects count on us to keep their information private.
5. Be an early tester of technology but not an early adopter. It’s nearly impossible to stay abreast of the ever-changing world of apps and websites. Find a medium that suits your needs—be it a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.—and develop it. Each platform does different work; find what works for you.
7. Get noticed by standing out. We are bombarded with things to read and watch and listen to; the average person gives a blog post or Tweet only a glance. Make your material engaging and brief, with a dash of humor if appropriate.
8. Follow people you know who are already experienced in social media. Facebook and Twitter have an etiquette and lexicon that could easily confuse the neophyte. By following someone who is more experienced, you can familiarize yourself with the terrain and processes.
8. Work collectively. One of the benefits of being part of CUMC is that we are a large community with many people already active and successful on social media. Interested in blogging or setting up a Facebook page? Start with the CUMC Office of Communications. Trying to promote your clinical practice? ColumbiaDoctors has a marketing/communications expert who can help.
9. Doctors should expect online reviews. Not yet as universal as restaurant or hotel reviews, physician and dentist reviews are a fast-growing part of online media. Generally, patient experience influences online reviews more than the quality of the patient care. The best way to prevent negative online posts is to make sure that patients feel good about their experience. The last person to interact with patients has a disproportionate influence on their overall satisfaction. If a negative review is posted, consult the CUMC Office of Communications before responding publicly.
10. Use common sense online just as you do offline. There is no way to predict how your message will be read, or by whom. Be careful about posting content that might be offensive, just as you would use caution when speaking in person. Let your intuition be your guide; if it seems like a bad idea, it probably is.
Resources for Columbia University Medical Center faculty and staff:
Once you log on to Lynda.com through the Columbia portal, here are four useful tutorials on social media: