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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Social Media Lessons From The Corporate World For Medical Professionals.

It's been a while since I updated but I've got a whole load of things to add over the coming days - stay tuned!

My brother Shane Cummings, the Managing Editor of Medical Forum Magazine asked me to add an opinion piece on the pros and cons of social media for Australian medical professionals. You can see the full (and nicely edited) article in Medical Forum Magazine and you can follow their updates on Twitter via @MedicalForumWA

Here's the complete, unedited and raw article for your reading pleasure.

Social Media Lessons From The Corporate World For Medical Professionals.


In my current role, a Social Media and Online leader across sales and marketing at Dell, I talk a lot about the commercial risks and opportunities that social media presents. On one hand, there’s a risk that employees could say the wrong thing – anything from inappropriate comments about or to customers, offensive remarks, inappropriate behaviour or even releasing confidential company information (often inadvertently but in the worst case scenario, deliberately). The opportunities however, hugely outweigh the negatives. Social media gives a commercial company fantastic, unmatched connection directly to customers. No longer are big companies faceless corporations. The real people within a brand can talk directly to customers – the guy who designs a product can have a meaningful conversation with customers who use it, feedback can be given directly to staff developing, managing or supporting a product and of course customers can talk to each other about their experiences in virtuous circle of positive feedback, real life tips on their experience and self-help when things go wrong.

When asked to look at the risk and benefits of social media for the Australian medical profession, much of this equally applies. There are great lessons from the world of business that can be of great benefits to patients and a real professional advantage for Australian doctors who have the courage to embrace these new opportunities early on.

The risks:

Medical professionals face a dilemma in both engaging patients directly through social media and in managing social media platforms (like a Facebook page or Blog) where patients can meet and swap health information. Should you be too involved in a patient’s life? What if people come to the wrong conclusion about a medical procedure or diagnosis (made worse by the social media community validating that diagnosis, without actually ever seeing the patient)? And of course, there’s a challenge in maintaining the time required to “seed” content into these communities, directly respond to patient enquiries and maintain your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (etc.) profiles.

The opportunities:

Firstly, there’s a real opportunity to differentiate your practice and be seen as a medical thought leader because of your presence in social media. Successful Doctors spend an enormous amount of time networking, keeping up-to-date on the latest best practices in medicine and forging a name for themselves through word-of-mouth, media and patient referrals. Social media puts this into hyper drive and can turn a struggling practice of talented media professionals into a thriving business. Patients talk. Social media amplifies this talk in an unprecedented way.

Secondly, social media is fast becoming the preferred method for patients to understand their health and how to get the best treatment. Previously, I worked with a baby milk brand who was marketing their products directly to pregnant women in the early stages of pregnancy. Their entire customer relationship management and engagement plan was based around one key customer insight – in the early stages of pregnancy there is a large amount of doubt and risk. In those first three months of pregnancy, Mothers will not reach out to their families and friends but they will turn to strangers anonymously to understand if what they’re going through is normal, what they should expect and to understand what they should do next. Their strategy involved having women who have gone through pregnancy before managing their communities (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.), being available via Online Chat, as well as more traditional call centre/telephone. This remarkable strategy was the core pillar of their marketing and has built enormous loyalty (close to 90% of Mothers choose to stay with the first baby milk brand they choose. This is up to 4 - 5 years of brand loyalty).

How to get started:

The first thing you need to do is listen. Whether this simply look at medical or health forums or your own Facebook or Twitter profile, or all the way up to working with a specialist provider of social media listening services depends on how deeply you want to engage. At Dell, there are 25,000 daily conversations about the brand. We use a global software tool called Radian6 to monitor those conversations. It’s as simple as setting up “key words” in the web-based software. For Dell, its phrases like “Dell”, “Laptop” and “Alienware gaming laptop”. For medical professionals this could be anything from symptoms to medicines to medical procedures. The important thing is that you, or someone you trust, is listening. Then it’s a matter of thinking about your social media presence as an editorial calendar. Social media is not static – it’s constantly evolving and needs to be continually updated. If you’re setting up a Facebook profile for your medical practice, I advise you to have at least a 6 month editorial plan, as well as at least one daily update (4 – 12 updates per day would be ideal). And the most important thing is to really engage. Whether it be a simple acknowledgement of someone’s question, or publishing an in-depth research report or thought leadership article you’ve written, just get out there, start engaging and you’ll see tremendous benefits.
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