Social Media Etiquette

Healthcare professionals are utilizing media platforms now more than ever, but are they learning the basics?

At a time when patients are more likely to seek answers online to general health questions than to ask a doctor face-to-face, healthcare professionals have had to revamp their social media platform usage to meet societal information sharing standards. Yet within every niche market, healthcare included, there remain clear social media etiquette guidelines.

Learning the proper techniques of social media is increasingly important because, according to Mediabistro, more than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health. The obligation healthcare professionals have to create educational content, aimed at being shared across an array of platforms, requires accurately informing consumers of health related issues, overshadowing misleading media shares.

“Social media acts as a megaphone for various messages that have the potential to improve patients’ lives,” explained Amanda Kanaan, president and founder of WhiteCoat Designs, a medical marketing solutions company for the healthcare industry. “Whether it’s announcing the results of a groundbreaking study, patients sharing their experiences with one another or a doctor posting an educational article, social media allows information to be shared across a much larger network than once available.”

Etiquette Insight
Elaborating on media-knowhow, Joseph Neighbor, editorial assistant at Columbia Medicine magazine, explained through his article, “10 Things Every Health Care Professional Should Know about Social Media,” that social media use in healthcare can notably enhance a professional’s or institution’s reputation if executed appropriately.

From Neighbor’s attendance at the event, “Social Media for Health Care Professionals,” a presentation by Columbia Doctors and the CUMC Office of Communications, he comprised a list of social media media apps on smartphone

From the university presentation, Neighbor recalled that considering social media as a dialogue, rather than a monologue, is imperative to healthcare professionals. Two-way communication patterns on social media platforms prompt a flow of conversation, whereas simply broadcasting information doesn’t promote an audience response. Another important aspect of two-way communication through social media is, if manipulated correctly, it allows an account to reach a broader audience increasing the possibility of widespread information sharing.

Neighbor also expressed that one of the key uses of social media in healthcare is to further educate the general public on health-related material. Keeping this in mind, by promoting new, interesting findings through social media platforms, a professional or institution is also establishing a strong foundation and media presence. Findings of interest could include scientific news, health advice, commentary on a medical or science story in the news, etc.

He relayed that there is a fine line between professional and private social media usage, and it’s important to remain professional throughout all postings and shares. In medicine, patients and researchers rely on organizations and institutions to keep their information private and, even if accidently uploaded for one second, a misguided post can severely tarnish an account’s reputation. Do not rely on disclaimers to protect an account because today, online information is easily accessible to anyone in possession of a device.

Platform Usage
Healthcare professionals who wish to expand their social media practices should call into consideration which platforms or applications are most beneficial to the spread their messages.

According to Demi & Cooper Advertising and DC Interactive Group, 19% of smartphone owners today have at least one health app on their phone. Among these applications, exercise, diet and weight applications are ranked among the most popular types.

Although it’s nearly impossible to fully utilize all methods of social media outreach, this statistic demonstrates that healthcare facilities should attempt to have a strong mobile focus across their market no matter their size. By using only the most influential mobile platforms, an institution can better ensure a higher satisfaction from its intended audience.

The most accessed online resource for health-related information is WebMD at 56% popularity, as reported by Mashable. Coming in next at 29% usability is Wikipedia, followed by 17% who favor Facebook and 13% who primarily utilize YouTube. By tailoring information sharing to these platforms, and by projecting engaging and brief media material, an institution will be able to stand out and receive positive attention.

Account Reviews
In addition to being particular about what content gets posted, social media users can thrive from having their accounts reviewed by their media influencers.

According to 2012 Health Care Communication statistics, 60% of physicians’ most popular social media activity is following what other colleagues are sharing and discussing. Physicians included, many people see value in reading and observing the content and conversations of others in their network.

By comprising a list of experienced and effective existing social media users, professionals are able to learn and acquire fundamental knowledge of media processes and strategies. Along with following people who are already experienced in social media, working collectively with people who are active and successful on social media, including marketing/communication experts can help bring success to intended social media posts and campaigns.

Additionally, encouraging and expecting medical practitioner online reviews support the fast-growing nature of review and recommendations on social media. Generally, patient experience influences online reviews more than the quality of the patient care, so, the best way to prevent negative online feedback is to make sure that patients feel good about their experience.

“Healthcare professionals should also be cautious about how they respond to negative reviews and comments on their social media pages. It’s best to not engage patients in a back and forth commentary about their experience at your practice,” emphasized Kanaan. “However, it is important to show you are listening so you should at least provide some sort of canned response and then discuss the details of their experience off line.”

Request that satisfied clients openly share their experiences on social media to spread awareness of the success of the brand, institution or practice, and if a negative review is publicized decide on an appropriate and respectful public response.

Above all else, healthcare social media users should utilize the same levels of common sense online that they do offline. Although there is no way to accurately predict how a message will be read and interpreted, by using caution and avoiding offensive or controversial subject matter, users can ensure a level of professionalism throughout their content.

Lindsey Nolen is a former ADVANCE staff writer.

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