Social media and your professional reputation

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Many new dentists find themselves at a crossroads with social media. Some feel they'd like to erase their social media past and start over, while others never used social media and dread doing so for their practice. The good news is there's a solution.

The key to success in social media from a professional standpoint is to find a balance between being personable and visible online, yet maintaining your personal privacy.

Rita Zamora.Rita Zamora.
Rita Zamora.

Note the difference between the words "personable" and "personal." You don't have to reveal your private personal life to be successful in social media professionally. And no, it's not a good idea to be an online hermit.

In fact, research shows how important availability of professional information has become. In 2011, Google commissioned a study about how people search for products and services online. People's search patterns today show an increase in the number of sites they reference, as well as the type and level of information they want to see.

For example, in addition to your website bio, a potential new patient may want to see your video on YouTube, what people say about you on Yelp, and the photos on your Facebook business page. As a dentist your online reputation impacts the perception of many -- including patients, employees, associates, and more. Further, your online persona should match your in-person persona. Congruence of online reputation and your authentic self helps build trust and grow relationships.

Protecting your reputation

Another important reason to have a robust online presence is for reputation protection. Whether you want an online reputation or not, you will have one. In fact, you have an online reputation already -- just Google yourself and see what the story tells. Maybe you don't have a story yet? As a public health professional, you will at some point. If you don't take control and lead your online presence, in time the public will.

In some cases, it may be one disgruntled patient's review. And you certainly don't want that one grumpy patient's review to be the sole piece of information that pops up when someone Googles your name. On the other hand, consider a pediatric dentist who disliked the thought of social media. Over the course of several years, his patients' mothers took the liberty of opening Facebook pages on the doctor's behalf. They left glowing, wonderful reviews about the doctor, and some uploaded photos of their kids smiling and having fun at their dental appointments.

One day the pediatric dentist decided to give Facebook a chance. He was delighted to find an amazing business page filled with incredible testimonials -- all initiated by his patient's parents! That was a happy ending. However, there are often many not-so-happy endings. So take the initiative, be proactive, and grow a positive, authentic online reputation for yourself.

Where to start

When it comes to social media, where do you begin as a new dentist? Rest assured, you don't have to go it alone. There are ways to delegate parts of creating and managing your online persona. However, the more informed you are, the better you'll be able to delegate and make good business decisions regarding social media marketing and online reputation building.

Start by making sure you have a business page on Facebook and Google+ to represent your practice. Individuals can have personal profiles on Facebook and Google+, and those should be for personal use. Friending patients via personal profiles is not recommended because, among other potential risks, it can blur the lines of the doctor-patient relationship.

Once you have your accounts for Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, etc. set up, what's next? The main thing you need to consider is social media content. In other words, what will you post about? You can best leverage social media by keeping an open mind. For example, rather than posting strictly dental-related topics on your Facebook page, you could also build trust and grow relationships via "personality" topics to show your human side. Examples of personality topics include the following:

  • Nonprofits you believe in
  • Local businesses you support
  • Hobbies you enjoy

In other words, share a little bit about your personality, your authentic self and values, and people will find something in common with you. Like attracts like. By showing a bit of personality, coming across as personable, you in turn build trust and valuable relationships -- keys to attracting new patients, improving case acceptance, and expressing leadership.

Learn to delegate

If all of this sounds appealing yet overwhelming, you aren't alone. Note that like many other practice duties, you can delegate the management of your social media. Below are a few tips to keep in mind for effective delegation:

  • Appoint an internal team member for social media management.
  • Make sure your social media manager has good communication and people skills.
  • Implement an editorial calendar system that will allow you to preapprove posts.
  • Allow your team access to seminars, webinars, or one-on-one coaching to keep up to date and motivated.
  • Hold your manager accountable for keeping you informed on what is being said about you online.

Avoid the temptation to delegate all of your social media management to an external source. Over the years, many social-media-avoiding dentists subscribed to monthly programs that "managed" the practice's social media entirely. In some cases, the doctor would discover they disliked the content being posted about them and found patient interaction nonexistent. This being "social" media, patients can often tell what is generic and what is genuine. Patients respond better to the occasional, personable post rather than a constant flow of generic content.

A final component in growing a positive online reputation is to support your social media manager's efforts. You can do this by understanding and acknowledging the value of social media for your practice. Be open to discovering and sharing your core values. Show some of your human side and a bit of personality -- and by all means have some fun while you are at it! This in turn will result in the attraction of new patients, better case acceptance, referrals, and valuable trust and relationships within your community.

Rita Zamora is an authority in social media marketing for dental professionals. She and her team specialize in training clients for independence so they can manage social media themselves. Rita is a highly sought after speaker and is published frequently in the U.S. and internationally. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado with a bachelor's degree in business and marketing and has more than 18 years of experience working hands-on in the business of dentistry. She can be reached at [email protected].

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