Isaac, AOP member
“I recently acquired a small practice and, with a limited marketing budget to promote our services locally, we have joined three social media networks: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We share insight into the practice, from opening hours to new stock, as well as general eye health messages. Patients have been quite active on each network and have been asking a variety of general and clinical questions openly. Do you have any advice on how to best respond to these types of enquires?”
Jennie Jones, Optical Consumer Complaints Service
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter…each of these social media platforms provide optical practices with fantastic ways of communicating with their patients and potential consumers.
In 2017, daily social media usage of global internet users amounted to 135 minutes per day, up from 126 minutes per day in 2016. With statistics showing that people spend more than two hours a day on social media, it is no wonder that businesses opt to embrace this medium to interact with consumers.
A website is crucial for any business, but largely forms the function of a brochure and static information source. Websites are increasingly becoming interactive, with practices offering appointment booking and live chat options.
"The policy of 'would I want my grandmother to read this?' goes a long way"
Social media allows practices to be more agile, personal and interactive. However, along with the benefits of social media, it also brings some challenges. The thing that concerns most practices is the loss of control. You interact with the wider world, but you do not have the power to edit or control what is said and when.
Here are some top tips when dealing with social media enquiries:
- Maintain a presence – checking these channels once a week is not enough. Practices need a consistent presence to be aware of enquiries and posts and to assess how best to respond
- Be aware of data protection – do not get drawn into conversations or exchanges that lead you to breach patient confidentiality. Be mindful that exchanges with an individual patient must still comply with the rules on confidentiality – even if they disclose information, do not contribute
- Find your way of taking an enquiry offline – making contact with a patient or encouraging the member of the public to connect via email or phone.
The three forms
Social media activity often takes three forms:
- Informative posts which educate the public
- Practice brand and personality building
- Calls to action.
Responding to general and clinical enquiries requires slightly different approaches.
Informative posts which educate the public
Informative and educational social media posts intend to increase awareness to help consumers make more informed choices about their optical health. Enquiries will generally seek guidance and advice. These posts enable you to showcase your own knowledge and also to reassure potential and existing patients. This increases confidence and trust in the practice.
For some, making an online enquiry is easier than contacting a practice directly. They may be anxious about coming into the practice, for example. Others will be drawn to your expertise in the area.
If an enquiry comes in from an individual member of the public, you will want to encourage them to interact with you in the real world with the appropriate urgency. Where an enquiry suggests that there may be a serious and urgent need for care, you do not want to create unnecessary fear or panic, but it is important that they realise the need to seek advice urgently.
You must also be mindful that others may have differing clinical views and you should ensure that all exchanges remain professional and courteous.
In these situations, it is important to take conversations about personal circumstances offline. If they are a patient, confirm that you will be contacting them to discuss. If you do not have contact details, then invite them to get in touch via a web contact form or ideally by phone.
"Keep it professional, consistent and, importantly, enjoy the conversations and new opportunities that it brings"
Brand and personality
It is possible to showcase your practice personality and include all members of the team in posts and updates. As a result, potential patients may be encouraged to interact with you and to come into the practice. These posts tend to be more informal and centred on the personalities within the practice.
Responses to enquiries and posts of this kind must still be professional. You want to convey your brand, but be mindful of personality clashes or comments that may be misconstrued. The policy of ‘would I want my grandmother to read this?’ goes a long way.
Calls to action
Social media can provide an easy way to interact with the public – conversations, polls and votes can be useful tools. However, if you are inviting people to get in touch, make sure you can service responses to avoid any frustrations being aired on social media.
Positive interactions and dealing with challenges
You may feel these should be two distinct categories, but the best approach in dealing with the challenges is to be consistent in your approach with the positives.
Acknowledging the positive comments, posts, reviews and endorsements allows you to build up online goodwill.
If a negative comment or enquiry is posted, then you can respond in the same way – acknowledge and then invite a direct conversation offline or confirm that you will be making contact.
It is important that you deliver on any public promise that you make online or you run the real risk of frustrations being posted online. Unless the post is illegal or offensive to other patients, think carefully before removing as this may only incite more posts.
The law is playing catch up in this area. Defamation rights exist online as much as in other publications. Formal action is expensive and, generally, is not an option or the best approach for individual practices.
There are situations where web providers can be required to remove content (Defamation Act 2013) or risk being liable for any serious harm that is done to an individuals’ or businesses’ reputation if the poster refuses to remove or they are posted anonymously. More often than not, businesses focus on the positive interactions, detracting from the impact of any negativity.
Keeping the team informed
Be aware of the impact that posts will have on your practice team. Ensure they know that they have your support. In terms of general enquiries, some employees will love the attention from social media and others will shy away from this. Respect their views. Involve them in building the practice’s social media presence by encouraging them to suggest content or allowing them to share it on their own channels.
Connecting with patients
Connecting directly with patients, the public and your peers is invaluable. However, it is important to think through your social media activity and have a clear plan for the message that you want to communicate – be true to the personality of your practice.
Keep it professional, consistent and, importantly, enjoy the conversations and new opportunities that it brings.
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