I give a fair number of social media presentations at medical conferences. At almost every one of them, someone in the audience will share his or her experience with social media and claim that it “doesn’t work” or that it’s a “waste of time.” I’m always curious to hear about the journey, so if the critic doesn’t share it, I review his or her website and Twitter timeline.

Their social media experiences are remarkably similar. They started Twitter accounts and sent out a bunch of random tweets. It might be a few tweets of health articles in the media, but there are a lot of references to meals at restaurants or reactions to sporting events. Then there won’t be any tweets for several weeks. There might be a tweet about a busy clinic or another health article link a month later, and that’s it.

If they have blogs – which is rare – the posts are equally sporadic, not just in frequency, but also in the widely varying topics.

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Doctor face down on laptop computer
It’s pretty obvious to me that the problem wasn’t that social media “didn’t work” or was a “waste of time.” These doctors clearly didn’t know why they were doing it in the first place. Usually they admit that a marketing consultant had told them that they needed to be on social media.

If they didn’t know why they should be on social media, how could they know if it would work? What were they going to measure? Worse yet, without knowing why they wanted to be on social media, they couldn’t create a plan and work toward their goals.

Before you start, ask yourself this question. What am I trying to accomplish?

Hopefully if you work in healthcare, the answer to that question involves teaching. Doctors have a duty to teach, and social media gives us the best opportunity to teach that has ever existed. Maybe you want to educate the public about diseases or medical conditions or injuries in your specialty. Maybe you want to educate the public or healthcare providers about health care reform laws. Maybe want to educate future generations of healthcare providers about social media and the changing role of technology in our practices.

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Even if you just want to use social media to attract more patients, which is acceptable I suppose, at least have a clear goal from the outset. Once you understand your “why”, then you can slowly work toward your goals. You can develop your blog content and blogging frequency. You can plan what you want to share on Twitter or ask on Facebook.

Plus you will have a better way to know if you’re achieving your goals. Let’s say your goal is to educate parents on the benefit of vaccines. You shouldn’t get frustrated by slow growth in your Twitter followers if you are getting a good number of thoughtful questions on your website from your readers about vaccine schedules or risks.

Also read:
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I strongly believe that social media can work and be a great use of time if you know how you want to use it. Ask yourself what you would like to accomplish before you start. Once you know your why, you will probably find that social media can be an immensely rewarding experience for a healthcare provider.