Social Media: The Basics


Yesterday, 526 million people went on Facebook. Why? What happened yesterday? Nothing happened. A half-billion people visit Facebook every day.

In fact, when this article went to print, Facebook was on the cusp of reaching more than 1 billion users. Chances are you’re one of them. But are you using Facebook to help build your practice? If you’re like many of our colleagues, you know you need to be using social media, but you may find it to be overwhelming, and you don’t know where to begin. I’m here to help.

I’ve been writing about, speaking about, and participating in social media for the last 5 years. I have had over 4 million visits to my blog; I have over 15,000 followers on Twitter; and my videos on YouTube have been viewed almost 100,000 times. I don’t do all of this to build my practice (I work at an HMO), or to make more money (I’m paid a set salary regardless of the number of patients I see); rather, I do it because it is becoming an integral part of practicing medicine and will be a requisite skill for successful dermatologists.

I’m on social media daily, where I listen, respond, engage, and teach, because that’s where our patients are: Three-quarters of all Internet searches are health related, and one in five people on Facebook is looking for health care information. And it’s my hope to inspire and support you in doing the same, and to help you pursue your own social media goals.

So for this inaugural column, let’s start with the basics: What are social media, and why do you need to use them?

Social media refer to web-based and mobile technologies that allow people to connect and share information with one another. Think of them as ways to have digital conversations. People flock to Facebook because sociability is a core human characteristic. Humans are compelled to interact with others.

Connecting with people at meetings, parties, and meals is what we’ve always done. Now, powerful technologies, such as Facebook and Twitter, make that connection easier than ever. Instead of sharing stories with your family on special occasions, you can share stories and photos with them anytime, anywhere, instantaneously. That’s why Facebook will soon have more than 1 billion subscribers.

Why is this important for your dermatology practice? Word of mouth has always been the most valuable way dermatologists have built their practices. But now, technologies such as Yelp and DrScore enable patients to spread word of mouth far beyond what was previously possible. Rating sites like these are fundamentally social media sites – places where patients connect and share information (in this case, information about you).

Every physician has a social media presence. Don’t believe me? Google yourself. Many of the links that are on your first page will lead to some type of social media site. You can choose to remain an object of other people’s conversations, or you can become an active participant in them instead.

Engaging in social media can mean having a practice Facebook page, a video channel, and perhaps even a blog or Twitter account. These tools will help you to engage and educate patients and prospective patients about yourself, to market and build your practice, and to protect your online reputation. Social media sites can also help you to build and maintain relationships with other physicians, learn from colleagues, and engage in continuing medical education.

As with learning a new surgical technique, the beginning is always the hardest part.

In columns to come, I hope to help you understand the fundamentals of web-based technologies, because once you understand the basic concepts, you can choose which media to use based on your needs and the needs of your practice.

Just as you can’t contract out CME, you can’t contract out social media. The tools are just technological enhancements of real person-to-person interactions. Your patients know and like you because they’ve built a relationship with you in your office. Similarly, your online presence will need to be genuine, or people will quickly realize it’s not actually you.

Learning social media isn’t difficult, but it can be time consuming. I look forward to your questions, feedback, and discussion as we all boldly go forth into the future of medical practice.

Dr. Benabio is in private practice in San Diego. Visit his consumer health blog; connect with him on Twitter (@Dermdoc) and on Facebook (DermDoc).

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