I hear a similar sentiment from doctors at every speaking engagement. They no longer need to be convinced of the importance of social media. But where are they supposed to find time in the day to create videos, post content, and answer questions from anonymous people?

Practices are undoubtedly up to their eyeballs dealing with everyday operational demands. And the premise that social media is just a time sink is indeed true when used to redundantly post special offers on Facebook. But when approached strategically, social media actually saves time.

Answering Those Redundant Patient Questions

Consider how many times patients ask about a procedure via email:

  • Is it the best option?
  • What's the recovery time like?
  • What's the level of experience the practice has with the procedure?

And how much collective time does the staff spend providing the same responses that will be seen or heard by just one person? Multiply that by the hundreds of inquiries a busy practice gets per week and you're looking at hours of repetitive and unproductive activity.

Contrast that with the process of contributing to your website, creating videos, or answering online questions on your social profiles. Once it's posted, that content is always there, accessible to the many other aesthetic consumers with similar concerns. That not only eliminates the repetitive nature of one-on-one interactions, it helps you save additional time when potential patients come in for consultations. Instead of spending precious minutes reiterating the basics of a procedure, you can focus on their personal needs and concerns, a prerequisite in converting them from shoppers to patients.

“We share a lot of videos on our YouTube channel, RealSelf, Facebook, and Twitter,” says socially savvy plastic surgeon Heather Furnas, MD, of Santa Rosa, CA. “It saves me time because I can walk in the room and focus on the patient, rather than giving a tutorial on, say tummy tucks. They already know the basics.”

Patients Count on Social Media and Reviews when Considering Aesthetic Options

With social media becoming an increasingly integral part of people's lives, it's not surprising that they turn to social media and reviews when researching their health and beauty concerns. Consider:

  • Nearly half of RealSelf users answered “Yes” or “Somewhat. I knew I wanted a change, but photos on social media made me more aware.” when asked if social media influenced them to consider or choose to have a cosmetic procedure.1
  • Eighty-nine percent of people surveyed on RealSelf said they like doctors to be “somewhat engaged” or “very engaged” on social media; 95% for the doctor's practice.1
  • Ninety-six percent of RealSelf aesthetic consumers believe reviews are important when choosing their surgeon.2

Taken in aggregate, the data lead to an inescapable conclusion: With so many aesthetic consumers incorporating social media into their decision-making processes, doctors who provide a repository of useful content—expert answers, explanatory videos, reviews from satisfied patients—make the process more efficient for all concerned.

All Social Platforms Are Not Created Equal

One reason practices find social media overwhelming is that they often try to be everywhere, tweeting here, updating Facebook there, and spending hours creating and publishing content all without ascertaining whether it's providing a genuine return on the time invested. The solution—and the key to avoiding burnout—is to approach your social content strategically.

What to share: Every day, potential patients go online to research procedures and ask questions about their aesthetic options. Those questions offer direct, indisputable insight into the issues they hold most dear and, by extension, provide a solid framework for producing appropriate content. Collect the questions you come across—both in your practice and on third-party sites—and use them as the foundation for videos, blog posts, and FAQs to be shared on your social profiles.

Where to share it: From Facebook and Twitter to RealSelf, you don't need a social media consultant to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all social platform. Which one is best? The one that actually engages potential patients, helps them resolve their aesthetic concerns, and prompts them to reach out for more information. Dig into your website analytics to see which ones deliver traffic to your practice website and which ones don't and allocate resources accordingly. You don't have to participate in every one and actually shouldn't.

How to get it done: Yes, sharing social content requires a time commitment but it doesn't have to be a black hole. Some doctors respond to a handful of questions during lunch breaks; others delegate the job of updating Facebook or Instagram to staff members. “Having someone who is social media-savvy, but also having the doctor looking it over to make sure it's okay, can be the best combination,” says Dr. Furnas.

For her part, Dr. Furnas spends 10 minutes or less per day being socially active: “There are days when I put in a little more time, but for the most part, it's five to 10 minutes,” she says. “It's like anything else. There's a learning curve, but if you invest the time, it can be really rewarding.”

Sharing is Caring but To Brag is a Drag

Ultimately, social media is less about the “media,” i.e., the platform, and more about the “social,” as in the coming together over shared interests. Yes, potential patients embrace it to learn about their options but, more importantly, they use it to get a sense of who you are. They crave the “real you” and the best social content demonstrates not just your skills and successful outcomes, but also your personality, humanity, and individuality.

That last point is crucial. Today's patients know they can choose among a multitude of providers, which only increases the need for doctors to differentiate themselves from the competition. Marketers speak of finding your unique value proposition and using it to establish your brand, which is essentially another way of showing who you are as both a person and a provider. Your brand is not your logo or the name of your practice; it's the impression people have of you based on what you share with them.

When that sharing takes place via social media, the return on investment provides what you could call a triple bottom line benefit. You save time by not having to repeatedly create content from scratch; that content reaches a far larger audience than it would otherwise, and the people who engage with it become more-informed, better-educated consumers.

For doctors, that means more qualified inquiries, more productive consultations, and a greater likelihood that those consumers will become patients.

Tom Seery is the founder and CEO of RealSelf, an online resource for medical aesthetics RealSelf reaches a vast, global consumer audience. 65 million people visit each year to obtain important information about aesthetic procedures and to find the right doctor or practice. 8,000 physicians get in front of the RealSelf audience by providing answers to questions and by sharing photos and videos. These experts have contributed over a million postings. Prior to RealSelf, Tom was a member of the founding team at Expedia, where he developed a $500M private-label travel business and introduced search marketing long before Google was a household name. Tom recently followed his passion for giving back, and joined the board of ReSurge International. ReSurge brings life-transforming reconstructive plastic surgery to 2,000 children a year in developing nations. Tom holds an MS from Drexel University, MBA from University of Washington, and BA from Connecticut College. He resides in Seattle with his wife and two highly energetic toddlers. You can connect with him on Twitter @seery.

RealSelf, Social Media and Medicine: How Facebook, Twitter, and Other Platforms Influence People's Cosmetic Medical Choices, June 2015.

RealSelf, Aesthetic Consumers Like Reviews, Board-certified Doctors and Enough Time to Decide, November 2012.