May 18, 2015

Using social media to grow a general practice

A growing number of general practitioners are using social media to attract new patients and secure their loyalty. Helena Athans from NAB Digital and David Bacon from the Healthy Thinking Group discuss the potential benefits and how to make the most of them.

Growing numbers of general practitioners are exploring ways of using social media to help grow their practice.

“Most start with Facebook,” says Helena Athans, Manager Social Media, NAB Digital. “It’s easy and effective and, in Australia, it has by far the highest number of users.”

 Reaching people quickly

Being active on social media makes a practice more visible.

“If you’re using Facebook regularly, your page is more likely to appear when people google for a doctor in their area,” says Athans. “They then have access to information about your practice that will help them decide whether to make an appointment.”

Once they’ve made the connection, social media can increase loyalty by helping patients to feel more engaged with the practice. Facebook is also a way to reach new people quickly.

“If your patients particularly like a post they can share it with their friends, who can then share it with their own friends,” Athans continues. “This can work as a very effective marketing tool and, unlike traditional media such as newspaper advertising and letterbox drops, it doesn’t cost anything.”

 Engaging content

Good content is at the heart of every successful social media strategy.

“A general practice might start with basic information about opening hours and when each doctor is available,” says Athans. “That can also help in a practical way by taking pressure off the receptionists answering the phones. From there, you might want to create a more interactive environment by providing general health tips or reposting relevant information from sources you know you can trust.”

Content should always be thoughtful, interesting and a reflection of your brand.

“Tools like Facebook’s Business Manager let you track how many people you’re reaching so you can see what works and what doesn’t,” Athans continues. “You can then use this information to shape your future posts.”

 Finding time

For maximum impact and engagement, it’s important to regularly post fresh content.

“This will be easier and less time-consuming if you set aside an hour or two to plan a week’s content rather than having to think about it every day,” says Athans. “But you do need to check every day to see whether there are any posts or comments. If there are, it’s very important that you reply to them right away so that people feel they have your attention.”

If the comment is negative, contact the patient directly with a private message or phone call and make it clear publicly that you’re taking steps to resolve the problem.

“It’s important that other people can see that you’re taking the matter seriously,” she says. “If you handle it well, a complaint can have a positive outcome by turning detractors into advocates.”

 Part of a bigger plan

GPs are understandably cautious when it comes to using social media, particularly when it comes to respecting patient confidentiality.

“They’re responsible for people’s physical and mental wellbeing so they want to be very sure they’re doing the right thing,” says David Bacon, Creative Innovations Director of the Healthy Thinking Group, a specialist healthcare and rural communications agency.

Many are also concerned that they’re making best use of their time.

“As with any other form of communication, social media should be part of your overall business plan,” says Bacon. “You need to consider your business objectives and then decide how social media can help you to achieve them. Without clearly-defined objectives you can’t see what’s being accomplished.”

 Five tips for using social media effectively

Post regularly to maintain interest.

  1. Post content that is relevant to your readers and reflects your brand.
  2. If you’re using more than one platform, send a consistent message across all of them.
  3. Use the insights provided by online tools to shape your content.
  4. Always reply promptly to comments, good or bad.

More from NAB: