By Wendy Lewis

Gone are the times when marketers loved social media because it was fast, easy, and cheap. Although social media appears on its face to be simple and straightforward, the complexities of working across multiple channels, changing rules and new features, and the quest for financial survival have changed the face of social media marketing considerably.

Posting a Facebook update or sending a tweet takes only a few seconds, but to leverage the real benefits of social media, you need a strategy and infrastructure to carry it out. The required time and resources can be deceiving. The seemingly endless to-do list includes growing your fan base on Facebook, tweeting news throughout the day, building your network on LinkedIn, blogging about current trends, storytelling, managing online questions, and connecting it all with your Web site, while integrating your online tactics into your offline marketing strategy … and the list goes on.

Social media is an effective tool to engage your target audience, drive Web site traffic, and, ultimately, boost revenue; yet only large corporations tend to employ a dedicated social media community manager or team. The key is to find the right people who have the skills needed and enable them to develop a community for you over time. Your social media team should be entrusted with telling people what you are doing and directing them to your Facebook page, blog, and Web site.

Social Media Skills

Among all the self-proclaimed social media “experts” out there, many are not necessarily experienced nor do they know how to navigate the shark-filled social waters for physicians. Check out their own social media profiles, and ask for links to other social media accounts he or she has worked on. Look for timely content, well-written updates, and fresh, creative ideas. The quality of content and engagement is more important than the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends. This does not necessarily equate to the quality of their work. Engagement tends to be a much better indicator of true social media moxie. Engagement involves comments and shares. For example, look at whether their tweets are being retweeted and their Facebook posts are being liked, commented on, and shared. Look for quality, not only quantity. Social media is all about building relationships with
your audience.

Writing for online platforms is a highly specialized skill that is quite different from other types of writing. There is a whole different language and tone required that is more conversational, entertaining, and informative. A good social media expert should have experience in online writing and understand how to transform complex topics into consumer-friendly phrases. It is also helpful to have expertise in creating content for several different platforms. Ghost writing is a useful background if they will be writing in the voice of a physician or the practice as a group. The key is to maintain a consistent voice throughout each social platform that is believable
and sincere.

Your practice’s social media program should be closely aligned with your overall marketing and communications strategy. A good social media consultant should understand that social media is an integrated tool that supports your other marketing efforts. All of the content used for marketing your practice are strategic communication vehicles.

Time Management

Most physicians and medical staff members simply do not have the time during the workday to manage all of these tasks on a consistent basis. However, not participating in social media is not an option. For many practices the choices are to assign a staff member to devote some of his or her workweek to social media, train someone on your staff to do social media the right way, hire a dedicated staff member to manage social media, or the most common option is to outsource your social media activities to an external professional.

However, there are hundreds of self-proclaimed experts who offer a sweeping range of conflicting strategies, third-party apps and analytical tools, and tactics for a successful presence in the social web. Every search engine optimization (SEO) firm today offers “social media” as a sideline, or as something they will bundle into your monthly fees. Social media is not all about optimization. It is also not something you can trust to an anonymous tech who may be a million miles away, is unfamiliar with your brand and has no idea what you do, and never even heard of a little thing called HIPAA.

In terms of the level of participation needed to move the needle, there should be at least one Facebook page update scheduled per day, a minimum of three tweets per day, and two blog posts per week. This content can be similar, but not exactly the same, and should include a link or visual, and be written in a specific format to maximize each of these platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and a blog). If you do the math, calculating the week as having 7 days (yes, weekends and holidays count even if your office is closed), this makes a total of at least 30 written social media updates per week. To be effective, each of these updates should deliver creative, relevant, unique, and engaging content that is aligned with your overall marketing goals.

But just creating and posting content is only one part of the total social media equation. The person assigned to manage your social media should also have access to images and video content, events and milestones, research and new technologies you are involved in, monthly specials, open house seminars, and everything else that goes on under your roof. This person or persons should also be retweeting or sharing other peoples’ content that is of interest to your fans and followers, keep conversations going and flowing, comment on ongoing discussions, respond in a timely manner (a few hours, not days or weeks) to questions and messages, police spam and offensive posts, and keep an eye on interactions with
important influencers.

Understanding Your Business

Cosmetic surgery and aesthetic treatments are a service, not a product. Think of your practice as a small business operating in a service industry. The basics of social media marketing are the same no Wendy Lewis Social tree
matter how big or small your business is. However, social media managers working with physicians in solo or group practices should not employ the same broad strategies that global brands do. The goals of global brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple have little in comparison to a cosmetic dermatology practice located in the suburbs. Consultants have to pay attention to the limited capacities of a small business, and one that may be primarily local. Resources will be considerably smaller, and the goals are at polar opposites.

The reputation of a plastic surgery practice or a small group of dermatologists is more vulnerable, and their customer base tends to be more sensitive to change and less loyal. A good social media consultant for a medical practice should appreciate the unique and special relationship between physicians and their patients, and know how important patient referrals and word-of-mouth marketing are in a
small community.

If you decide to hire a social media manager for your practice, you can post information on your Facebook page or in a LinkedIn group you may belong to. Many practices tend to hire interns to help out with social media, which is fine if there is someone on board who can oversee what they are doing and properly train them. The challenge with interns is that they tend to be transient. To guard against turnover, be sure to have every password and login information kept in a safe place, and change them whenever you have turnover to avoid any problems. It is regrettably all too common to find that the last person who was tweeting or facebooking left the position without transferring any written instructions or login details to the next person. Social media being what it is, these can be tricky and often time-consuming to recreate.

To assess whether a candidate will fit well with your practice, have critical staff members talk to each of them first. There is a huge difference between hiring a college student who has a personal Facebook page and tweets while watching American Idol, and someone who has worked in a social media, marketing, or PR capacity for another business or brand. The learning curve is steeper than you may realize. The qualities you should be looking for in a good social media consultant are organizational skills, professionalism, communications and writing experience, creativity, and an upbeat, outgoing,
friendly personality.

Measuring Results

Understanding how to measure success is an important part of a social media strategy. There are no measurement standards for social media, but there are numerous tools that can help to assess different metrics. For example, Facebook pages have the ability for Admins to “View Insights” for free. Go to the Messages tab that is on the right side under the Cover Photo. The drop-down menu will allow you to click on View Insights, where you can track your activity by Overview, Likes, Talking About This, Check-Ins, as well as Total Subscribers. Third-party platforms, such as Hootsuite.com, offer more sophisticated Custom Analytics tools that can track engagement and hashtag traction across multiple social media platforms. These reports can cost upward of $50 per month to run, depending on the markers you select and the plan you have in place. Some of the programs used by large digital agencies that offer a deeper dive based on your specifications may run $1,000 and up per month per account, and may be more complex than your practice
really needs.

Taking the plunge to the next level of social media marketing takes a financial commitment, time on the part of the staff and/or physician(s), and a good deal of patience. Just like SEO and any other marketing plan, it takes time to see results – at least 6 months to judge the benefits. A good social media manager should be able to identify the most helpful tools that are relevant to track your results, and be able to set up a specific plan to measure the long-term success of your
overall strategy. n

Wendy Lewis Wendy Lewis is president of Wendy Lewis and Co Ltd, Global Aesthetics Consultancy   http://www.wendylewisco.com, author of 11 books, founder/editor in chief of http://www.beautyinthebag.com, and contributing editor of PSP. wl@wlbeauty.com.