For any type of business, be it large or small, having an online presence is indispensable. The healthcare sector is no exception. In fact, a survey by the AMA showed that in 2011 nearly 60 percent of adults searched for health related information on the internet. And year after year, this percentage is growing. That means that a medical practitioner can no longer afford to ignore their online presence.
Good old fashioned word-of-mouth will never stop generating new business and referrals for your practice and providing great service is still key. But as the current tech savvy population relies more and more on search engines to look up relevant information, it becomes more and more obvious that an online presence can’t be ignored. For younger generations, it’s the way they think. When they need any service or product they’ll search for it online and that’s no different for healthcare. They’ll simply Google/Bing/Yahoo search for a good doctor in their area. In addition, they’ll also check reviews and comments as well on sites like Yelp and Google local. So, in a matter of seconds, they find the information they were looking for, immediately judge your practice from what they found and that’s it. You will have lost or gained a customer based on your online presence. And frankly, this young generation isn’t that ‘young’ anymore. These tech savvy people aren’t just 20s something; they are 30-40 year olds who require medical care on a regular basis.
Billions around the globe have almost effortless access to the internet. As more and more people are looking for expert medical advice, as a medical professional, you need present yourself online so people can find you. Going online can help grow your practice in a number of ways. And there are big advantages to being online.
First off, your clinic is open, or at least the reception is open for clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You don’t have to invest in someone watching over it. A website has no time barrier. It is always there when you need it unlike your physical practice. Giving patients the flexibility to schedule appointments through your website or even the ability to start a telemedicine visit directly from your home page vastly improve both the value of your website to existing patients and the attitudes potential new patients form about your practice.
Having an online presence helps you build your brand. Clients see your name every time they search for medical advice. So, it’s very likely that next time, if they have to seek medical assistance, they may drop in at your clinic. Building a brand takes time, so be patient and start building your online presence even before you open your clinic doors.
By going online, you are not only accessible to your neighborhood’s clients, but to any person in this world who finds your presence online. That means people who know about you from word of mouth are no longer your only potential clients. A person travelling near your location could potentially consider you for any kind of medical help. In addition, these days, patients travel to different countries in order to get specialized and sometimes more economical medical services. People will consider you only if you have a decent online presence. Your clinic name will be known globally.
Tips to build your online presence
So, we can all agree that your online presence allows people to find you, interact with you, get to know your services, like you and ultimately trust you. As a consequence, you’ll have more customers and they’ll be more loyal to you than ever. Your online presence is not built in a day, it will take time but will have a long term benefit attached to it. Here’s how you can go about building your online presence:
First and foremost, it is essential to understand your goals – both long term and short term. What’s the reason for you to have an online presence and how are you going to achieve it? Know in depth, how each activity will contribute towards attaining your goal. Don’t build an online presence because others are doing so. Instead, write down your goals and map them to your strategies to ensure they are in sync. Be online with purpose. Your online presence usually requires a team effort so share these strategies with all your staff and be upfront about what you expect from them.
2. Have a website
In order to have a core presence online, you first need to have a website. It all starts with this. Everything you do online will lead back to this website, so you better make this good. Make sure the website is appealing and relevant to your target audience. Don’t be afraid to hire a graphic design firm. You most likely didn’t design your clinic by yourself so why would you build your own website? Graphic designers can add the details that help you stand out and look professional.
In addition to this, you can also build a blog page using WordPress. It’s user friendly and very easy to post and edit blogs. Using this system, you don’t need an external expert that manages your blog, it’s all you.
3. Don’t go for the cheapest hosting or use a third party provider to manage it all
When you develop your online page or portal, make sure it’s hosted on a proper server, so customers don’t get annoyed by long loading times and in some cases even warnings of a dangerous website. This can happen when you’re sharing a server with someone else that does less legal things with their website.
4. Focus on your target customer
One of the most important goals for your online presence should be to attract targeted customers. The danger is that when you’re online, you become too general in what you present people. It may seem like a great idea to not be too specific about what your specialty is to get more customers to visit your website, but there are two huge disadvantages.
First, there’s the fact that you’ll be competing with other “generalists” that are online as well. This is wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the first page of a search engine typically only displays a very limited number of searches. And that means you might not be one of them.
Second, when a patient does arrive at your practice and finds out you’re not really what he or she was looking for, they won’t like it one bit or worse, leave you a bad review online.
This all means you should make sure that what you present your potential customers with is as specific as you can be. It will help you stand out significantly. How? Using basic SEO practices will go a long way. It’s a bit too complex to get into here, but it all boils down to strategic use and reuse of keywords across your web pages. Know who you are targeting and a good web developer can do the rest.
5. Implement a spot on your website where clients can give you feedback
By going online, you give yourself a tremendous opportunity to gauge your patient’s perception about your practice. You can have online feedback forms which clients can fill in. You can even conduct surveys to find out ways to improve your services.
And when you’ve done that, you can even display client comments online. A word of caution though, be careful about what you disclose and be certain you’re not sharing any PHI without prior consent. Nothing speaks better for your practice than an actual customer telling others you’re great at what you do!
6. Be Ready For Mobile
The growth of smart phones and other handheld mobile devices have led patients to opt for quick searches for finding doctors while on the move. You don’t want to miss out on a patient from your area who is looking for some kind of medical help on their mobile device. Being online and being ready for mobile ensures that details of your clinic and your specialization appear in the search results of the patient.
7. Use social media properly
For most businesses, using social media is where they start their online presence. There are many platforms and tools available today and you can also choose one from a website, a blog, a profile page or a Facebook or LinkedIn page. Sites like Facebook and Twitter allow you to interact with the rest of the world. So, don’t just have a page sitting there online. There are also valuable tools like HootSuite and TweetDeck that can help you schedule content and manage multiple social accounts in one place.
It’s best to be actively involved with your community and grow it continuously. How active should you be? Well, for Twitter you need at least 4 tweets a day. It isn’t much if you consider the average lifetime of a tweet to be less than 20 minutes. Facebook is sightly different. 3 Posts a day are probably enough. For Linkedin for example, you’d be ok with 2 updates a day. Keep in mind that Quality is more important than quantity.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be online the entire day. There are many tools (Buffer/Hootsuite) for example) that allow you to automatically schedule and share content from your website to these social media sites.
8. Sharing your own content
After you have built the foundation of your online presence, you need to show your regular activity on various social media sites. These are the places where your patients spend most of their time. You need to decide among one or many platforms.
If you have that blog ready, this is your time to shine. You should share your content on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube if applicable. You can even make content created specifically for a certain platform. Mix this content with the other content you share and you’re golden. Pro Tip: including a picture or video with in any content has been proven to maximize engagement and exposure.
9. Actually engage
People like your posts and comment on them when you also do the same to their posts. Interact with content that you like. Add a comment or like the post. People will notice it’s you and track it back to your blog or your website.
Be consistent in your effort. Regularly update content. If someone commented on your blog, reply to them. Let them know that you are there for them. Also, get some guest posts to help to build relationships with other bloggers or experts in your field. It will immensely increase your credibility and reputation.
10. Track your performance
And lastly, you won’t know how you have been progressing online or with social media unless you track your progress. Track your progress every week. Google analytics provides a great tool to track a website’s progress.
Your online presence has huge potential to increase the visibility of your clinic. But as Rome was not built in a day, you also have to be patient. If you’re able to start building a strong platform, add consistent and rich content, establish a good social media presence and build relationships you’re good to go and reap the benefits of being online.