By Andrew Koppejan, PT, BBA, MScPT, CGIMS. CPA Member since 2009.
Social media can be an important marketing channel for your clinic services, and their importance will continue to increase. More than ever, social media is playing an important role in people’s decision-making and health care decisions are no exception.
For those starting out, it’s easy to make mistakes that lead to wasted efforts and missed business growth. As well, individuals who don’t see the value of social media marketing are less inclined to take the time to learn the basics, and less likely to experience the potential benefits.
For the past few years I’ve worked with physiotherapy clinics to educate, build, fine-tune and manage their social media outreach. The intent of this article is to provide clinicians with foundational advice to start a solid social media presence, while outlining a few critical mistakes to avoid.
1. Define Your Goals
Society’s familiarity with social media for personal use leads us to incorrectly think we can launch a successful clinic social campaign with little forethought and planning; however, this is rarely the case.
It’s important to spend time reviewing your marketing and business goals to identify how social media could fit into your clinic marketing mix. Taking a step back before jumping headlong into social will help you understand the direction and activities to undertake.
These questions can help you get started:
- What sets you apart in your community and how do you communicate that difference?
- Do you have staff who are not as busy as needed?
- Are you launching new products or services? How do you plan to promote this to your local community?
- Who are your word-of-mouth referrers? How are you connecting with them currently?
- What specific practice areas do you want to educate the public about?
With a clear understanding of your short and long term priorities, you can start to assess the marketing activities and channels with the greatest impact.
2. Understand Your Patient Profile
Understanding your ideal patient profile is an important step to reach the right people for your clinic. It’s helpful to identify your current patient mix and decide if it aligns with your business direction and vision.
Next, it’s important to understand where your patient population is spending their time online and devoting their attention. The marketing channels you focus on, including social, should align with the places where your patient population spends its most time.
3. Choose the Right Social Networks
Building from my last point, choosing the right social network is driven by your patient profile.
Understanding the capabilities, demographics and appeal of certain social networks will help you narrow down your choices and avoid spreading your efforts too thin.
In a survey* performed in 2015, some interesting Canadian demographic trends were noted in Canada:
- Close to six in ten adult internet users in Canada have a Facebook profile, with almost half accessing the platform more often than once per day.
- 47 percent of respondents use Facebook more than once each day, compared to 27 percent for Instagram, 23 percent for Twitter and six percent for LinkedIn.
With clinic demographics in hand and a knowledge of your ideal patient profile, it becomes much easier to identify the right social channels to pursue. When first starting out, consider working with only one of the popular social channels – that is, choose from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Yelp.
4. Start Small and Commit to the Long Haul
It’s far too easy to begin marketing on multiple social platforms and then within weeks or months find the effort too much to sustain. Begin with a single platform – and take it slowly.
Physiotherapists often underestimate the time it takes to plan, set up, create, curate, and converse on their social media channels.
Find a posting schedule that works for the amount of time the you and your team can devote to it. Remain consistent for 2-3 months while refining the clinic’s professional voice and gathering data and feedback about what resonates with your community.
5. Find Your Voice
Your voice on social should be professional, yet also contain a personal touch to be engaging. It’s a tough balance to strike since the information itself has to be less technical, and more accessible.
Whether it’s the clinic owner, or a larger team, who manages social media efforts, a useful starting place is to create a ‘This…Not That’ T-chart to help everyone understand the tone and vocabulary to use.
For example, a physiotherapy team whose chief practice is women’s health could articulate that the ideal communication through social media is lightly humorous but not crude, uses optimism but not tragedy to convey each social message, has particular anatomical phrases that they prefer and some they avoid, etc.
T-charts of this nature should be considered a work-in-progress; it’s best for this working document to remain easily accessible to everyone who uses the social platforms on the clinic’s behalf.
6. Focus on Quality Content
There is no shortage of content on the internet to share- if anything, there’s too much, and often can be of questionable quality.
Since it is the clinic owner who is typically the voice of the clinic brand- people want to know what you know, and view the world as you see it.
With this in mind, be highly selective and share quality information that reinforces our knowledge as university-trained professionals and supports the perception of our profession.
To this end, here are a few tips:
- Be selective – each piece of content considered should be of high quality and closely reflect best practice evidence. Every day, readers encounter mediocre and poor content, and physiotherapy clinics have an opportunity to be leaders in quality health care education.
- Less information attractively displayed is more shareable – the general rule is that highly visual content is more frequently shared. Check out free online tools to help generate attractive pictures and quotations.
- Strike a balance between curated content and custom-created content. Relying too much on one type of content will reduce viewer interest and engagement.
Practices to Avoid
1. Avoiding Social Media Because of Professional Standard Concerns
Similar to other types of advertising and word-of-mouth networking, social media interaction has best practices set forth by physiotherapy regulatory bodies (please check with your your respective provincial regulatory body).
Social media campaigns should meet the following criteria to avoid any potential risk of misconduct. For example, Physiotherapy Alberta College + Association put together a social media practice guideline* with the following highlights:
- Maintain and protect the privacy, security and confidentiality of client info, while assuming all online content is public
- Maintain professional boundaries by not initiating personal online contact with clients
- Remain consistent and proactive in the management of requests from clients for online communication
- Keep personal and professional profiles separate and distinct
- Consider a professional disclaimer and maintain secure privacy settings as they can change often
- Avoid disparaging remarks about clients, colleagues, educators, mentors, etc.
By focusing on delivering quality education and information, physiotherapists have an opportunity to promote both their clinic and the value of the profession as a whole.
2. Using Social Media Only to Advertise Services
I’ve seen clinic Facebook pages that almost exclusively use their social platform to advertise services and appointment openings. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for patient disengagement.
It’s worthwhile to put yourself in your social community members’ shoes and ask if you would find this interesting in your social feed. As a general rule, 80% of social media content should be informative, educational or entertaining, while the remaining 20% may be promotional.
3. Avoiding Pay to Play
I’ve discovered that clinic owners can have a belief that social marketing should be free. Unfortunately one’s efforts with social marketing can be less fruitful without recognizing that you have to pay to play.
The increasing competition on platforms such as Facebook has resulted in a business’ organic reach to decrease significantly, with the result that professionally advertising your social content will help you see results more quickly.
With that said, social platforms are typically less costly than typical search advertising (e.g. Google Adwords) and an effective campaign strategy can help you increase your connection with more people in your community.
These best practices will help you make the most of your social marketing efforts while at the same time promoting the value of physiotherapy to Canadians across social media.
*Social Times. 59% use Facebook in Canada (LinkedIn: 30%, Twitter: 25%, Instagram: 16%). Available from http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/canada-social-media-study/614360
About the Author
Andrew Koppejan lives in Edmonton, Alberta and is the founder of ignitephysio, an online community of practice for physiotherapists. He is passionate about building engaged communities and elevating the role of physiotherapy in Canada. Coupling his ongoing clinical work with his training and experience in branding and digital marketing, Andrew brings an in-the-trenches perspective to his writing and consultation with clinics and organizations.