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Beyond Facebook and Twitter: Tips for Going Social

By: Tom Seery


As the founder of the largest online community for researching cosmetic surgery and other elective treatments, it should come as no surprise that I believe doctors—and their patients—reap immense value from engaging in the conversation happening on the web about aesthetics.

But beyond my admitted bias, new patient data shows that online engagement is increasingly viewed as a requirement. In a survey of 700 consumers who requested a consultation via the RealSelf platform, respondents expressed how they overwhelmingly expect doctors and practices to be active and available online (with caveats); they have serious doubts about those who aren’t, and they know which sites and social networks provide the information they seek and which ones don’t. Here’s what they said:

Over 90 percent expect doctors to be active in social media

When asked how active doctors should be on social media, just 10 percent said the doctor should not be engaged.

• 57 percent said doctors should be “somewhat engaged”
• Another 33 percent said “very engaged.”

When asked to elaborate, they offered great insights. In their own words:

• “You need to be able to do some research independently. If [they’re] not engaged, how do you know they exist/are an option?”
• “They should have a way to showcase their work; it will help the patients view their work and also make them comfortable with the doctor.”
• “Social media is a great way to detail all the options available at a particular practice for any issue. It’s nice to know a patient has many options.”

Expectations on practices’ online engagement are even higher. A full 96 percent expect the practice to be involved. Favorable views notwithstanding, some aesthetic consumers cited concerns about doctors taking their eye off of the practice, their skills, and the patient’s wellness.

Social content is considered much more valuable than social tools like Facebook

When asked what resources they used when researching a cosmetic decision, the vast majority (92 percent) of respondents said the doctor’s website was important, as could be expected. But less obvious was the finding that review sites play a far more important role than all of the best-known, most trafficked social media sites. Over half of the respondents cited a specific review site as being very or somewhat important to their decision making process.

Conversely, the major social networks don’t factor into their research nearly as much. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter — in every case, 50 percent or more of respondents said they were “not at all important.” Facebook was considered important to just 28 percent, followed by Instagram (27 percent), Pinterest (22 percent) and Twitter (16 percent).

In a way, that’s to be expected given the megaphone-like nature of the major social networks. These sites can certainly deliver marketing benefits, such as expressing the brand or personality of the doctor, but the survey data strongly suggests they are inefficient tools for patients who want to do research. Think of the way you shop for a house. You go to Zillow, not Facebook. Or picking a hotel, you’d likely visit TripAdvisor before Instagram.

Privacy is a one reason much of the aesthetics research falls outside social networks. As one respondent stated, “I wouldn’t want my friends/family being aware that I am seeking plastic surgery.” Consumers are also savvy enough to know that businesses are on Facebook and its counterparts to promote, not to engage in an open dialogue. As one respondent put it, “I don’t trust FB for something like this. I think it will be more marketing than finding a good doctor.”

Don’t expect a lot of engagement on the major social networks

If you pay attention to the analytics of your social profiles (and you definitely should), you can see who engages with your content by liking it, commenting on it, and sharing it with others. Unfortunately, doing so can be extremely disheartening as engagement numbers for branded content on the major social networks are notoriously low—and likely to go even lower.

Part of the problem is that sites like Facebook and Twitter have always filtered how much content users see from the businesses they like or follow. In recent years, the trend has only accelerated as the sites have begun favoring promoted posts (i.e., fee-based content that generates revenue) over so-called organic ones, making it even less likely that your fans and followers will see your content. On Facebook, for example, it’s estimated that, on average, non-paid branded posts reach 6 percent or fewer of a business’s fans.

Needless to say, it’s hard enough for people to interact with your content if they’re not even seeing it but even if they do many still won’t take demonstrable action due to the privacy concerns cited above. When we asked survey participants whether they’d be willing to “like” a doctor on Facebook, 66 percent said no. The most common explanation: “I don’t want others to know,” which took 43 percent of the No vote and 28 percent of the total vote.

And yet…

Aesthetic consumers are suspicious about doctors who don’t engage in social

Despite the low engagement numbers cited above, the fact remains that aesthetic consumers expect doctors to be present in social media. Even if they never “favorite” a post or retweet a single message, they turn to social sites when they have questions, when they want to watch videos or compare before and after photos, and when they hope to get a sense of how the providers they’re considering interact with others like them. Doctors who aren’t present do more than deprive consumers of their expertise; they can actually endanger their reputation by their absence.

How? When we asked consumers what they thought of doctors with very limited information available online, 38 percent said they considered them “outdated” or “not current.” (Another 16 percent believed such doctors were hiding something!) As one respondent put it: “If they don’t see the purpose of investing in updated information to future clients, I don’t feel the need to invest my time or money in them, either.” Another wrote, “They seem outdated and disconnected, and makes me feel like they have poor communication skills, which is a bad first impression.”

And, yes, engaging in social media does require an investment, both in the time it takes to create content, answer questions, etc., and for the budget required to pay your marketing team. But given the crucial role social media plays in potential patients’ decision-making processes, it’s an investment where the biggest risk is the one you face if you don’t participate.

As a survey respondent considering liposuction wrote, a doctor’s engagement in social media “demonstrates a level of dedication and responsiveness — which, with such delicate procedures as these, is very important. Seeing a doctor answer questions gives you an idea of how much experience he has. Backed up with lots of (real) photographic proof of their work and with lots of satisfied customers — that is the perfect doctor.”

Tom Seery is Founder & CEO of RealSelf (www.realself.com).