“Whether you realize it or not, information about your professional work is being accumulated online,” says Oregon neurologist Jeff Kraakevik, MD. “Your digital profile is your ‘footprint’ on the internet.” It is the sum total of all the posts (social media or articles) about you and your work ever put on the internet—by you or anyone else. If you want some control over that, you are going to have to get online.
Many of your colleagues are already there and so are your patients (present and future). According to the Pew Research Center, about 90 percent of all Americans use the internet and almost 70 percent are using social media to connect with each other and gather information. They could be sharing or reading information about you right now.
You have a chance to steer this ship by building a positive professional profile on social media. Here, you can counter misconceptions or negative information about yourself and your work. You can also engage with your peers, meet other neurologists, and build up your clinical practice by attracting new patients and referral sources.
Kraakevik says he started with Facebook in 2003 and then Twitter in 2009 (@ohsuneuro), and he recommends starting out with a personal profile. This way, he says, you can make mistakes. “It’s one thing to make a social faux pas to your friends than to do so with a professional audience.” Once you sign up for a social media platform, he recommends first just “listen.” This way you can find your niche, learn the platform’s capabilities, and see what people are not doing.
Social media is a dynamic playing field; platforms come and go, and the ones that stick around morph over time. Choosing the right social media platform depends on the type of practice you have, what your goals are, and who you are trying to reach. Here is a list and description of the top players most relevant to neurologists today:
Short, sweet and fast-paced, it is used for personal, political, and professional purposes by all walks of life. It can be difficult to keep up with the constant stream of posts unless you follow people wisely and make use of hashtag (#) identifiers. You can find the top healthcare hashtags on Symplur.com. Because Twitter is so diverse, you will likely find a niche that is right for you.
More on the personal side, but increasingly political, it generally has an older demographic, with little use by teens and young adults. This is the place to post that cute cat video and pictures of your last office party. It is also good for local businesses as a friendly place to reach people in their community.
This platform is exclusively for medical professionals. Unlike the other platforms mentioned, it claims to be HIPAA secure and encrypted. This is a good place to connect with other neurologists, referral sources, and researchers.
Many physicians are making use of video to share educational material with their patients and to market their practices. This is the place to be if you are skilled at communicating this way or have information that is visually compelling to share.
If you are a complete newbie with social media, Kraakevic recommends that you “Find other neurologists who are already on social media. There is a learning curve and they have probably figured out some things.” They can share their errors and help you decide which platforms might be most useful for you and your practice.
Before you charge in though, it is important to know that being a physician or representing a practice means there are a few more rules than usual. Read our post, To Tweet or Not to Tweet: Social Media Guidelines for Physicians, to learn all about that.