“Social media is a vital tool to market a radiology practice” RT IMAGE Magazine November 2010
Forms of social media have existed since the days of the caveman. It’s true. A simple wall painting illustrated the need to avoid predators or communicate basic needs and relationships.
While social media is a relatively new trend, the main objectives are to communicate, identify with others, share an emotion, and then create a plan of action, says Catherine Leyen, ARRT(R)(MR)(CV), a media consultant with MRI Optimize Consultants in Tempe, Ariz. Leyen specializes in presenting social media-based marketing strategies to radiology professionals.
It may seem as though the public and professional organizations have only recognized social media as an increasingly beneficial tool in the past few years, especially with the advent of Facebook. However, businesses have been marketing through Web-based social media for years, as evidenced by the omnipresence of spam. Since then, there have been policies put into place to protect consumers and limit marketers’ boundaries of use.
Yet Facebook arguably remains the poster child of the social media marketing explosion. Although Facebook initially catered primarily to college students, it now envelops millions of people, groups, organizations, businesses, and causes worldwide. “It took AM radio 38 years to reach 50 million people. Facebook did 100 million in 9 months,” says Leyen.
Facebook users now number approximately 500 million, and advertising for businesses through this avenue has increased traffic to individual Web sites exponentially.
DEVELOPING A STRATEGY
The new realm of social media has limitless possibilities. One of the most important things, says Leyen, is that it creates a level playing field because small and large businesses can use the same tactics. Social media experts help companies develop strategic plans to organize their message and achieve results.
Without a strategy, marketing can become disorganized with no real target method implemented, and professionals have trouble measuring tactics that actually work. There are numerous tools that help businesses monitor and grow their client base, including landing pages, search engine optimization (SEO), click-throughs, tracks, and pathways on Web sites.
“Knowing what direction your consumer is tracking you, what they’re listening to, what they’re talking about, is important,” she says. “And there are paid-for monthly or yearly programs that monitor your name and what your competition is doing.”
The rapid advances in social media have influenced all fields, including radiology. “Patients are now naming names, who worked on them, and who they didn’t like,” says Leyen, and it’s more important than ever for radiologists to be conscious about customer service. Social media can also be used to network professionally.
Leyen emphasizes the importance of radiology practices jumping on the social media bandwagon. “If you’re in tune with what your consumers are talking about, you’re more aware of what the conversation is,” she explains. “And if you’re in the game with social media, then you’re ahead of the game because there are a lot of radiology centers that are not involved with it. [Some centers] are almost afraid of it.”
SOCIAL MEDIA IN RADIOLOGY – A NEW FRONTIER
When embarking on a social media strategy, professionals must familiarize themselves with this new territory. Each person associated with a treatment center, from patients to other professionals, represents a potential media presence. Clients can later rate the service they received online.
Some sites began as review boards for specific businesses. The site Yelp, for instance, was once only used for restaurant reviews. Now consumers can browse reviews of shopping, nightlife, entertainment, medical services, and real estate in their local neighborhoods. Angie’s List, a subscriber Web site, allows consumers to post reviews of medical and contractor services that they’ve used.
A good rule of thumb, says Leyen, is for clinicians and administrators to treat every client or patient like they could be talking about them on the Internet. As for the most valuable types of social media outlets, Leyen says that they “are interactive, have information and share education, and they all have an engaging story.”
She recommends that radiology professionals create social media teams of the “superstars” in their respective departments or establish a social media liaison, and then release stories every week in order to engage clients.
“It’s as simple as, believe it or not, printing it out on a piece of paper, laying it in the waiting room, and saying, ‘This is our social media story for the week. If you have a comment, please get on this Web site and let us know,’ ” she says.
By printing all comments, positive and negative, facilities can demonstrate transparency, which develops trust with clients and potential clients. In the end, however, Web-based social media is merely a gateway to a closer connection between clinicians and clients. Social media “is an electronic forum that gets people engaged, but the ultimate response is face-to-face social networking.”
For radiology practices, though, the focus should remain on customer service. “You want your patients to talk about you giving them the best service and taking care of them like they were extended family,” says Leyen, and that involves “excellent image quality and personal follow-up.”
But what makes or breaks a social media campaign for any business is the extent to which it is undertaken. “It’s like any advertising or [public relations] method. If you’re going to do it, you need to do it right. Just because your nephew can build a Web site doesn’t mean he should do it,” she stresses.
Leyen also emphasizes the importance of hiring social media experts to develop a campaign for a specific business with unique goals in mind. “You need to have ways to show that your return on investment is actually paying off,” she says.
CHANGE IS GOOD
Leyen often encounters hesitancy from senior radiology professionals when they are approached about a new social media marketing campaign. Although they may recognize the importance of implementing such an endeavor, it usually does not happen immediately. Leyen and her team may offer a proposal and not hear back from the practice for several months, because “getting the message to the people who are actually going to pull the trigger is the difficult portion.”
Leyen tries to convince senior management that social media is the way of the future, and that it’s important to be a part of this new reality. Businesses that adapt to the times will “land on their feet,” while those that refuse to ride this new wave risk being left behind.
–Sara Lavenduski is a former editorial intern for rt image. Direct comments and questions to editorial(at)rt-image.com.