1. Create content for potential patients. Identifying stories or issues that are making headlines and adapting them to involve spine health is one way to "inject yourself into the social stream of consciousness," Mr. Goldberg says. "Social media is a great way to increase your exposure as well as highlight your accomplishments"
But, he adds, content should never be overly promotional. "A spine center's blog should become a resource for information, instead of a solicitation for services," he says. The key is to be subtle about the spine centers' use of social media. "Entice users to want to visit your pages or read your content by making it interesting and relevant," he says.
"For instance, if there is a story about an athlete who had a spine injury, write or blog about that athlete and then let readers know of your services and how your practice can help if they have a similar injury." Mr. Goldberg adds that patient testimonials are a great way to promote without sounding too promotional.
2. Monitor comments. While it's probably difficult for spine surgeons to take part in social media because of their schedule, Mr. Goldberg suggests it's a good idea to have someone within the organization monitoring a spine practice's social media presence and consistently updating on networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
"You should also monitor comments on your social media pages or website," he says. "Nothing can dissuade a potential patient like a negative comment posted by a competitor or disgruntled former patient."
3. Know social media boundaries. The most imperative boundary is to never give medical advice via social media, Mr. Goldberg says. "In many instances patients will see a blog or information you have posted and reply with a question regarding a medical condition," he says. "In other instances, they may send you message on Facebook or Twitter."
No one within the practice should give a diagnosis or suggest a treatment on social media, he adds. The best response is to direct people who reach out through social media to call the spine center office and speak to a medical representative. Phone correspondence allows physician to review the conversation in case issues arise later.
4. Be heard on social media. Using hashtags on Twitter is a great way to reach users, Mr. Goldberg says. Hashtags such as #spine, #pain, #chronicpain and #backpain are among the most popular for those with spinal issues. Another way to be heard is to guest blog for other users.
"The key is to identify blogs and markets that most have not delved into yet and create a collaboration," he says. "This will allow you to expand your reach and for your voice to be louder."
He says "creativity is key" when finding alternative outlets to collaborate with and that spine centers should consider blogging or creating content for sources where most wouldn't think of, such as targeting trade magazines for industries with workers who may be susceptible to spine injuries and writing articles for them.
5. Be specific when adding friends and followers. Millions of people use social networks, but not all of them will be sources for potential patients. Therefore, Mr. Goldberg says to target social media users who may end up doing business with the spine center.
"Start locally first," he says. "Find [target] users in your community including current or former patients, local physicians, businesses and politicians and then continue to expand from there."
For instance, he says there isn't much need for a New Jersey-based spine center to follow someone in Missouri because they are not likely to travel a great distance for your services. However, by increasing a following and reach, spine centers may soon start to see patients from all across the nation.
Mr. Goldberg says this approach has worked for him in the past. He says that since using social media and reaching a wider audience, his previous center has had patients come to New Jersey from as far as Nebraska for spine care.
6. Track readership. Knowing who is reading your blog will allow the spine center to create more relevant, targeted content. "If you find one topic is being read more frequently than others, that tells you something about what type of information people are seeking," Mr. Goldberg says.
He adds that spine centers should use these statistics to guide them in content creation and to maximize online visibility. It's also important to have a space on a blog where readers can subscribe to email alerts. This allows for is the blog author to track and discover readers' demographic information.
7. Take a multi-faceted branding approach. Just having a Twitter or Facebook page does not guarantee more patients. But it can be part of an inexpensive, potentially lucrative plan to market a spine center.
"The goal of social media is to drive traffic to your website where they can get more information about your practice and services," Mr. Goldberg says. "Very few people will call to make an appointment because they saw you on Twitter, but they may see something relevant on your Twitter account and then navigate to your website."
Blogging, Twitter and Facebook are one "cog in the machine of branding," as Mr. Goldberg puts it. He says that taking a multi-faceted approach to branding and marketing will yield the highest results for a spine center or other specialty clinics.
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