Manage Your Webutation – Or Someone Else Will
Forty-two percent of consumers have used social media to learn about physicians or treatments, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.1 What impressions do prospective patients take away from your practice’s online presence?
In this Pulse article we help you:
- Understand why it’s important to manage your practice’s online reputation – its “webutation”
- Take your online presence to the next level
- Learn what you can do to protect your webutation
Patients today still find and compare physicians primarily by word of mouth. But widespread consumer adoption of Internet technologies means that these “referral” conversations are happening in more places than ever before – many of them online. So it’s vital that you understand the power of the Internet to help or hurt your online reputation – your "webutation."
Your webutation is affected by two things: what you say about your practice (which you control) and what others say about your practice (which you can’t control, but can address). To maintain a strong webutation, it’s important that you both create a positive online presence and monitor the web for potentially negative information about your practice.
Even before the Internet, your practice had a reputation and a brand. Think of your brand as all the promises – tangible and intangible – that surround the services you offer. Your brand is supported or undermined based on whether you keep those promises, judged by patient experience. Traditionally, your brand may be communicated by printed material like brochures, but more importantly, by one of your patients telling a family member, friend or colleague about their positive (or negative) experience with your practice.
The Internet magnifies your brand exposure dramatically. Instead of a brochure that may reach hundreds of people, your website reaches millions. And patients have the ability to convey their experience one-to-many instead of just one-on-one. If you have a strong brand, this is a good thing – so take the opportunity to create an online presence that tells people who you are.
- First Things First: Review your website. One of the first things a prospective patient will look for is your practice’s website. If you’ve had a website for a while, give it look with fresh eyes. Is it still easy to navigate, or has it become overgrown with extraneous information? At a minimum, it should be clear to visitors how to find information about your physicians’ backgrounds, as well as contact information, location and hours of operation. Your website should also express the values and evolving nature of your practice, and make clear what differentiates it from other organizations. If your practice has implemented a patient portal, secure access to the portal should be visible on the public site: seeing how your practice is using technology to support patient satisfaction is important to prospective patients who rely on technology for information-gathering.
- Next Step: Socialize. After they’ve scanned your website, prospective patients will likely look to see if your practice has a Facebook business page. This page should be distinct from anyone’s personal Facebook page, and set up using a different, work-only Facebook account to separate personal and professional activities. Another place prospective patients may look is YouTube, so consider setting up a channel for your practice and recording a short video offering a virtual tour of your office. You can add more videos to your channel – for example, a video with sample post-operative instructions – to give visitors an even better sense of who you are and what you do. There are many other social media channels – for example, LinkedIn for recruiting an office manager, Twitter for posting new services - you could use, and the number is ever-growing; which channels you select depends on your practice’s social media goals, as well as the resources available to support social media activities.
Your efforts in creating a strong online presence may not be directly measurable in terms of patient volume, but they will equate to a stronger brand. Measure the success of your efforts by asking new patients, upon their registration to your practice, about how they located you. Be specific in your options – Facebook, etc. – to assess the relative success of each initiative.
While the social media channels you create are somewhat within your control, that’s not the case with information that others are disseminating about your practice elsewhere on the web – sites like Yelp and Healthgrades, and personal Facebook pages and blogs, to name just a few. How do you know what’s being said about you, and what can you do about it?
- Google yourself and your practice. This will give you a baseline understanding of what’s already been said, who said it and where it was said. If it’s negative, better to know about it so you can address it. If it’s positive, you may be able to turn it into a positive public relations (PR) opportunity. Create Google alerts for the names of your practice and its physicians to receive email updates when new information associated with those keywords is published on the Internet.
- Evaluate negative reviews. If you find something negative posted about your practice, first make sure that the person who published the information is really referring to you and not another practice. If a negative review is about you, but it’s inaccurate, contact the hosting website: they may be able to remove the review. If the host can’t or won’t remove the review, consider whether it might be appropriate to hire an attorney. Stop yourself from posting a defensive response, as it will more than likely be perceived negatively by readers. Instead, as noted below, encourage satisfied patients to post their positive comments. This will take your “1-star” review to 5 stars in no time.
- Don’t “astroturf.” Astroturfing – the practice of trying to create the perception that a grassroots movement exists when there isn’t one – occurs when someone tries to counter negative online reviews by posting many positive (but artificial) reviews of their own. It’s unethical and can lead to legal action, as the Lifestyle Lift franchise – a plastic surgery enterprise - learned after the company was found to be instructing employees to create and post rave "patient" reviews.
- Level the playing field. While astroturfing is inappropriate, there’s nothing wrong with making patients aware of the opportunity to post an online review of your practice. Encourage online feedback by typing up the instructions for posting reviews to Google, Yahoo, Yelp and Bing, for example, and giving them out to patients. If you sense patients might feel pressured by your direct request, ask your staff to communicate the instructions as they check out.
Whether you realize it or not, your online webutation already exists; if you don’t take steps to manage it, someone else will. Start by establishing a solid online presence and follow up with monitoring activities; soon your webutation will be something you and your practice can be proud of.
Know the Cost of Social Media
There are two important facts to remember about creating and maintaining a successful online presence for your practice. First, information on your website and social media channels must be kept current, or those outlets become stale – a turnoff to tech-savvy consumers. Second, while it may not cost the practice anything to set up social media channels, social media is not free. Not only do social media channels need to be regularly refreshed; they also need to be monitored daily for patient services issues that may require follow-up.
If you think that managing your social media channels may be more than you can handle internally, consider working with a social media consultant knowledgeable about healthcare who can maintain, refresh and monitor your sites, as well as report results.
Focus on the Positive
If a patient posts a negative review of your practice, stop yourself from responding with a defamation of the post. You’ll only look defensive to observers. (Of course, if the remarks are slanderous or otherwise illegal, in your opinion, contact the review site to remove the post and/or hire an attorney to work on your behalf.) Instead, smother the site with positive reviews. Ask your patients, particularly those who offer verbal praise directly to you or your staff to record their comments on-line.
To facilitate the process, have a print out of the directions to post the review available to hand to patients. Alternatively, set up a computer in the reception area open to Yelp, Healthgrades, Bing or other review sites. Ask all patients to use the computer to post a review, or just direct those who indicate their satisfaction to record it online for the public record. Patients with a beef take to the Internet immediately to publicize their frustration; most satisfied patients won’t take the time to post a review without prompting – being proactive pays off to manage your reputation on-line.
Service with a Smile
With increasing financial responsibility, more and more patients feel like they should get more than just great medical care for their investment. To avoid patient frustration ruining your reputation, take the opportunity to promote great customer service. Treat patients with dignity and respect – it’s the little things that count the most: Greeting patients when they arrive; making eye contact and smiling; a handshake or a gentle touch; and explaining instructions when they are clearly misunderstood.
Take customer service to the next level by promoting not just service, but comfort. Consider asking patients: “Is there anything that we can do to make you more comfortable?” You might not always be able to meet their needs, but most patients aren’t looking for a spa – what they are looking for is to know that you truly care.
An easy way to find out what others are saying about your practice is through Google Alerts. When you sign up for this complimentary service, register your name as well as your practice’s name. Google will automatically send you an email when you or your practice is mentioned. Although some of the alerts may be depressing – a negative review by a patient, for example – don’t ignore the communication.
Although some patients may be negative by nature, there’s often a grain a truth in even the most inappropriate of posts. Many dissatisfied patients, moreover, are actually not upset with you – they’re frustrated by your practice. Use comments from patients to assess and improve your internal operations.
- Social media “likes” healthcare: From marketing to social business, PricewaterhousCoopers LLP Health Research Institute report, April 2012.