What does social media have to do with practicing medicine? Nothing. You could ignore social media and the Internet, and still practice podiatry just as effectively as you always have. However, at some point in the future, you will be practicing podiatry less often and with fewer patients. I don’t make this point to be confrontational or arrogant. I make this point because it is a fact. It is important for you to know and understand why social media is important to you and your patients.
Do not judge social media by your own behavior. It is entirely possible and highly likely that you have never blogged, tweeted, posted, retweeted, pinned an image or done anything remotely close. It is also highly likely you have had some minimal exposure to social media and found it to be boorish, possibly vulgar, ridiculous and irrelevant. If this is close to your experience, it is understandable that you can find no connection between this activity and your podiatry practice. It is understandable but you would still be wrong.
Why would you be wrong? Every day, thousands of people who live within 20 miles of your practice are communicating on Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more social media outlets. They are doing this hundreds of thousands (actually millions) of times in a week. This is part of a fundamental transformation in the way in which individuals share information. This transformation is accelerating and will continue to be pervasive in the future. Something is happening before our very eyes on our smartphone screens. The human race is sharing information in new and powerful ways, and social media is at the center of this behavior.
“OK,” you say. “Let’s say that is all true. I see all the little icons in the newspaper and on television. I see it at Dunkin Donuts. So what? I still want to know why that involves my podiatry practice.”
Your podiatry practice is filled with people who are communicating like they never have before online and in social media. More of these people are women and, as a marketer of podiatry practices, I can tell you it is all about the women. “She” is the caretaker of her health, her husband’s health, her children, his and her parents, literally everyone in her life. We always market to “her.” We always speak to her because she is listening on social media. She is asking questions, researching, keeping lists and making appointments for podiatrists.
If I told you that I had a software program that would connect you to thousands of perfect patients who lived within 20 miles of your office and that I could create a referral network that was robust, active, dynamic, and highly profitable and it only cost $10,000 a year, many of you would be interested in buying it. That is precisely what social media is and the cost to purchase is zero. It is free. I know it sounds crazy but nobody knows how to charge you for it and it is going to stay free.
However, nothing in life is free or very little is, right? The cost to you is time and effort. The good news is that it does not have to be your time or your effort. The even better news is that a well designed and executed online and social media marketing plan for a podiatry office will produce significantly more revenue (bottom line profits) to your practice than the investment you will make of having someone who does understand this implement it for you.
If thousands of women are communicating multiple times a day about everything including healthcare, it is essential that they recognize that you are a valued resource and that you know the answers to their biggest concerns. The main reason to be active in social media is that you will see increases in your new patient numbers, reactivated patient numbers and referrals. If you do this well, they can increase dramatically as in five or more new patients a day from this activity.
Women will see your posts, be reminded of you, be engaged with your content and when appropriate, call to make an appointment or refer you to a friend. Many of my doctors who are using social media for marketing are contacted by leaders in their communities, media outlets and other doctors, and asked to help. The ripples that social media produce in your market amplify across all media and return to you as new patients calling your office to make appointments.
As newspapers, the Yellow Pages, Valpak and other advertising venues from a former time continue to die, social media continues to grow exponentially in importance to podiatry practices everywhere, even in rural communities with little high-tech behavior that is obvious. You have to be in it to win it.
Before we discuss some of the most important social media vehicles that you can use to grow your practice, it is essential to warn you. The Internet, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media are the new tools to sell “snake oil” in the United States and doctors are in the crosshairs for unscrupulous companies that charge exorbitant fees for doing very little or damaging things online supposedly on your behalf.
Setting up social media and linking it appropriately is relatively straightforward and not expensive. Writing and linking good content is more time consuming and difficult and should cost more, but not jaw-dropping amounts. It is best to work with a company or individual who is familiar with podiatry and has some technology skills. Your association or your colleagues can often guide to you a good source.
There is a secret to making all of this a lot easier. What is the secret? Write the content once and reuse it many different ways.
To be clear, copying content (even your own) will not work. Search engines like Google will see that it is duplicated content and not index it. Accordingly, Google could put you on the “bad” list and not index any of your content. You never want to get on the bad list. Never.
There is a wonderful tool in Hootsuite (www.HootSuite.com  ), a very inexpensive program ($9.99/month) that connects all of your social media and repurposes it across all your social media appropriately and easily. This enables you to post one blog post, for instance, and have it instantly posted to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google +, and many other social media platforms.
One of the biggest hurdles and frustrations of social media is the number of programs that people are using. There are hundreds and everyone has a favorite. It is best to focus on the top tools and let the rest alone. Here is my list for podiatry practices.
• Blogs. The first and most important social media outlet you need to pursue are blogs. Blogs or “Web Logs” are short form forums in which you “post” interesting and relevant content about foot and ankle health. These are the most important social media tools you have. You should have one blog that is integrated into your Web site and at least two external blogs (Wordpress or Blogger for instance) that focus on specific practice areas such as heel pain, ingrown toenails or fungal nails. When you post short, specific and interesting content on your blogs and use Hootsuite to repurpose the content on your other social media properties, you create the illusion that you are very active on all social media, when, in fact, you have only posted the content one time.
• Facebook. Facebook is still the most relevant social media site out there. Facebook is remarkably resilient in the face of competitive pressure, especially from Google. This is where everybody goes. Create a Facebook page for your practice and use a personal page as well.
• Twitter. As much as most of you will dislike this tool, it is widely used and can be very useful in staying top of mind with thousands of people in your market.
• LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a professional social media tool that is helpful in staying connected to other professionals. While this is not as essential as Facebook, it is still useful and helpful in building your social media footprint.
• Google +. Google + is Google’s attempt to wipe out Facebook and the Yellow Pages in one blow. It is still struggling with taking out Facebook but is single handedly destroying the Yellow Pages and sending it to the dustbin of history. Google + is essential.
• Pinterest. In this social media tool, you post or “pin” your favorite images. Most of you will just scratch your heads and wonder “who thinks this stuff up?” However, “she” is there and she is engaged. This is now a must-do.
There are a variety of other social media outlets and tools that you can pursue, and this is a changing landscape as all of this evolves. As you get good at this, you can examine other social media outlets but to get started and to do this well, the aforementioned list is a great way to start.
We live in interesting and exciting times. The hard part is the supposed complexity, fast pace and the new way of communicating. Think about this though. Prior to the advent of this technology, communicating and marketing to your community was extremely expensive. The newspapers and the Yellow Books made hundreds of millions of dollars because they controlled the channels for decades. We are no longer limited by our inability to find the patients who need us.
This is really good news for all podiatrists. Those who will prosper and thrive in the next decade will have open minds and embrace the world they live in instead of wishing for a time that is forever gone. Podiatrists are blessed to be in a specialty that is more relevant and needed than ever before. There are thousands of patients near your office who need you desperately. The only question is, will they be able to find you? Social media can ensure that you will be in the exact spot where “she” is looking for help.
See you online.
Mr. Jackson is the President and CEO of Top Practices, LLC, and the leader of the Top Practices Mastermind Group. Top Practices is a company dedicated to helping podiatrists reach their professional and personal goals by building their “perfect practice.” He is a Fellow of the American Academy Of Podiatric Practice Management (AAPPM) and an adjunct faculty member in the practice management program at the Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine. Mr. Jackson was also the recipient of the AAPPM President’s Award for 2012. Readers can reach Mr. Jackson at rem@TopPractices.com . You can find out more about Top Practices at www.TopPractices.com  .
Editor’s note: For related articles, see the August 2012 DPM Blog, “The Do’s And Don’ts Of Networking Through Social Media” by Desmond Bell, DPM, and the March 2012 online-exclusive feature, “Social Media: Can It Be Beneficial For Your Practice?”