Social Media for Physicians: A Primer for Developing your Social Media Strategy

Social Media for Physicians: A Primer for Developing your Social Media Strategy

Whether you know it or not, you are on social media; all physicians are. You may directly participate through Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. But, even if you don’t subscribe to these services, you are being discussed by patients on social media, rating services like healthgrades, and possibly on your institution’s site or link to other physician specific media like doximity.  The question you need to consider is if you are happy with allowing others to control the message. Also, do you want to take advantage to the several benefits social media can have for your career?

Note:   There are lots of great doctors out there. But, some are more respected, well known, or successful than others. Chances are, that successful physician has excellent professional and medical business skills like negotiation, networking, or public speaking that they leveraged to accelerate their careers. This post is one of a continuing series from Physician Advocates LLC discussing often overlooked skillsets that Healthcare Professionals can utilize to grow their careers. Please sign up for our newsletter to keep informed.

First, let’s discuss the potential upsides of developing a social media presence as a physician. We’ve already discussed the advantages of reaching out to traditional media in a previous post. The advantages to social media can be even greater, because you control the message and the media. You also can develop “evergreen content”- information that remains relevant to the consumer and is of constant interest. The media you produce is also long lasting. Unlike a TV interview, your post on the need the for influenza vaccination in the elderly will be available for years to come.  No need to keep being interviewed or doing the same public speaking events. The audience is potentially worldwide and 24/7 with the internet and search engines sending your message to consumers in every continent.

From a business standpoint, the most important benefit of a physician social media presence is “inbound marketing”.  Inbound marketing is hard to describe in simple terms, but it basically means that customers (referring doctors or patients) find you via internet searches or shared social media and then seek you out. It’s the opposite of most marketing that you are accustomed to seeing. Most marketing is “interruption based”- you are watching a news show and a commercial comes on, interrupting your media experience. The other common marketing technique is outbound marketing- mailing out fliers or postcards trying to gather the interest of random consumers; hoping to avoid being ignored or having your expensive publication ending up in the recycling bin- unopened and unread.

Inbound marketing has several distinct advantages. 

  • Costs of advertising is much less. Often there is no cost beyond labor, internet fees, and hosting fees.
  • The consumer is self-selecting and primed for the message. After all, they sought you out.
  • The consumer is appreciative of the message. They are obtaining desired information, not being forced to watch an annoying ad or click a button to remove a pop-up window.
  • You are granted instant expert status on the basis of the media you provided

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There are several downsides to developing social media, some specific to physicians. The first is effort. You’ll need to set up the media sites, possibly a blog or Facebook page. You will also need to generate content and ensure it is accurate and complete. Like all things posted on the internet, this will be permanent- even if you try to delete it. Finally, you will be in control of the content, but not the message. You will have people commenting about your posts. Most will be very positive, but some will be negative. You will need to engage the commenters. You can’t simply delete comments you don’t like- this will permanently harm your integrity and make you seem inauthentic.

Here are some handy tips to consider as you get started. We’ll discuss the specifics about setting up your social media empire in future posts.

  • Consider separating your professional and personal social media. You can set up a “Facebook page for your business or public profile and a separate “Facebook profile” for your friends and family.
  • Speak with your marketing department at your hospital or organization. They probably can do 90% of the work for you. If they are like most hospitals, they are desperate for physicians who are interested in social media.
  • Come up with a “sandbox rulebook” on how you will handle social media. Will you accept friendship requests from everyone? What types of behaviors will you accept? What will lead to deleted comments? What will lead to banning or unfriending? Be sure to publish a post about your accepted behaviors. Remember, the goal here is to protect your members from false or dangerous information- like suggesting pineapple juice is the cure for cancer- and to prevent harassment of your audience.
  • Think about what you are willing to share. Will you limit posts to informative articles? Will you speak about events and family? Will you share everything with the general public or just those who sign up?
  • How will you funnel visitors into your business? Consider the experience from the user standpoint. Maybe someone stumbled upon a post about alternative uses of Botox for spasticity. How does the viewer get from the post to your booking office? Do you set up a newsletter, a link to your business page, or a phone number. Remember, in the modern internet world, people respond best to easy internet based solutions that require a single click.
  • Focus on one social media platform to start. I’d recommend Facebook. With the business page feature and easy to use posting, sharing, and defined privacy settings, it’s the best all-around place to start. Eventually, you’ll want to set up your own website with a newsletter and blog- WordPress is very popular product. Twitter can be useful if have a large audience, but the limited nature of the information can be inhibiting. LinkedIn is fine if your audience is primary professionals, but you’ll lose the general public and many potential patients.

Developing a social media physician presence can be a fantastic way to educate the public, grow market share, increase awareness, and drive referrals. It can also be an enjoyable and rewarding way to reach out to the community and can lead to other opportunities like media interviewing or public speaking. The setup can be confusing at first, especially if you are unfamiliar with the various platforms. But, if you are careful to avoid the downsides, a social media presence may be just the thing you need to kick-start your career.

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What do you think? Are you social media savvy? Do you have a website or other presence? What mistakes did you make along the way? How would you describe the return on investment, especially compared to traditional media marketing? Share your thoughts in the comment section

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