Social Media Marketing Tips from a Radiology Perspective

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If you’re looking for pointers on how best to use social media for marketing your radiology practice, just go to your favorite search engine and key in the first three words of the headline above. You’ll be deluged with more than a million worthwhile tips in less than a second. It was with this milieu in mind that Health Imaging asked several experts for radiology-specific insights that go beyond the usual for healthcare providers (“Ask your patients to Like you on Facebook”) and the obvious for all businesses (“Post fresh content frequently”). Here are select suggestions from those conversations.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Garry Choy, MD, MBA, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who has nearly 8,000 Twitter followers, points out that the specialty’s association with large, futuristic medical equipment makes for a can’t-miss eyeball magnet. “People do enjoy seeing that stuff, and this can offer an opening to introduce the techs, radiologists and the whole staff,” he says, adding that Facebook friends sometimes come for the sights and stay for the human connections. This principle works as well for other photo-intensive services, such as Instagram, Tumblr and Flickr—and to showcase not only the scanners but also the pictures they produce. “People are fascinated by 3D images from inside the body,” says Choy, “and we also could be doing more with animated GIFs of, for example, functional MRI of the brain, cardiac imaging of a beating heart or dynamic contrast-enhanced studies.”

Try it before you (fully) buy it.

With an entry point of just $5 a day, Facebook advertising facilitates low-risk experimentation with messaging, targeting and audience segmentation. “You can test a hunch for just one day and see what happens, and if your idea takes off you can put together an annual campaign and spend up to $100 a day,” explains Sarah McFarland, communications director and social media specialist with Atlantic Health Solutions, a Florida-based radiology marketing firm. If you’re in a big market and you want your ad to constantly be up, you probably want to be on various outlets rather than all in on just Facebook, she adds. “Everyone is working under lower reimbursement rates, and everyone is trying to do more with less,” notes McFarland, who is also a member of the marketing subcommittee of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA). “Social media gives you so many unique ways to spend just a few dollars and try different ways to get in front of the exact people who are looking for what you have to offer.”

Welcome complaints from patients as opportunities to shine.

Physician practices have proven quite thin-skinned when it comes to receiving negative feedback from patients. That’s unfortunate, because inside the cloud of every gripe on Yelp is the silver lining of a chance to showcase winning customer-service skills. So says Abraham Seidmann, professor of business administration at the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business. “When a patient posts a negative comment on social media, you have the opportunity to express empathy and tell how you plan to resolve the problem,” he says. “Then, when you have resolved the problem, post a description of that as well. Your silent patients are watching how you treat other patients.” He adds that, no matter how trivial the concern might seem to the clinically minded—difficult parking, uncomfortable temperature in exam rooms, old magazines in the waiting area—every concern posted is an opening to relate, communicate and, yes, win or maintain market share.

Referring docs + patients: Two birds, one stone.

Radiology marketing has traditionally focused on reaching out to referring doctors to the exclusion of patients. Today it’s smart to market on social media to both groups—at once. “In today’s healthcare environment, the patients know they have choice as to where they can go for their imaging,” says Choy. “We have to get in front of patients directly, but of course we cannot forget the referring physicians. They still have to write that order.” Indeed, and a recent report from Ragan’s Health Care Communication News showed that some 60 percent of physicians’ most popular activities on social media involve following what colleagues are sharing and discussing. Choy says Mass General Imaging’s Facebook page (Facebook.com/MGHImaging) draws a steady stream of Likes and comments from referring physicians and their staffs. “We use our presence to market to everyone,” adds Choy. “Employees, inpatients, outpatients, referring offices—we put up a variety of content and rotate target segments to make sure we don’t leave anyone out.”

David, throw your weight around. Goliath, watch your flank.

Social media’s low cost of entry levels the playing field, allowing a small, freestanding imaging center to do everything the radiology department of a nearby multi-hospital system does—and often do it more nimbly. “In some ways smaller practices have a creative advantage over hospitals,” says McFarland. “Hospitals have bigger budgets, but they usually have to jump through all kinds of internal approval hoops.” A smaller practice can run with a splashy bra decorating contest to promote mammograms, she offers by way of example, whereas a hospital might have to convene a committee to fret over “nonclinical appropriate use,” so to speak. “At smaller practices,” says McFarland, “you’re able to say, ‘This sounds like fun. Let’s do it!’”

Video without a Hollywood budget.

YouTube is important because video is one of the most engaging types of content you can put online, says McFarland. “You can do a lot of cool things to promote your practice, and you don’t need a slick video production. If you have a good enough camera and someone who is willing and able to edit the videos, it’s quite simple.” She suggests going into the imaging center or department during downtime, turning on the camera, asking questions and filming responses. “You can spend an hour doing that and come back with video content for a whole year.” For practices willing to spend a little more to get a slicker production via niceties like professional voiceover and background music, McFarland points to such sites as Fiverr.com, an online marketplace where creative services start at $5. “But in my opinion, your videos don’t have to be Steven Spielberg level production,” she says. “All that matters is posing good questions and getting good answers, and then making sure to optimize the video for easy finding by keyword search.”

For example, you might shoot a video of an MRI tech answering the question “Will I feel claustrophobic getting an MRI?” Make that very question your video’s title and, when patients key it in, they will virtually meet a living, breathing human in a much warmer medium than photos with captions. Think it’s not worth the trouble? Think again. Google’s Think Insights found that YouTube traffic to hospital sites has increased 119 percent year over year.

Yes, social media is relevant to “older” audiences.

McFarland points to an imaging center in The Villages, a 55-and-up community in Florida, as the most active social media population she has seen. “We have more engagement on their Facebook page than that of any of our other centers—and possibly all the others combined,” she says. “They might not be quite as up to date with their smartphones, but they know how to Google. And we know around 80 percent of people online use the Internet to find medical information, and that’s across the board, all ages.”

Seidmann acknowledges the latter statistic while adding a key wrinkle. “The group that has the highest impact on the purchasing of medical services might be women in their 30s and 40s,” he says. “They take care of themselves, their spouse, their children, their parents, and sometimes their grandparents. And all of them are on social media, staying in touch with hundreds of people they’ve known in every stage of their lives.”

Meanwhile, Mediabistro recently showed that 18- to 24-year-olds are more than twice as likely as 45- to 54-year-olds to use social media for health-related discussions.

Given all the data and all the advice, perhaps the most practical of all unexpected tips on using social media for marketing a radiology practice comes through an updated paraphrase of Woody Allen: 80 percent of success is showing up—on social media. MGH’s Choy can concur with that. “If you’re not on social media,” he says, “you are sending a message about your practice—and not a good one.”