Less than a decade ago, social media didn’t exist; yet, with more than 800 million active Facebook users and an excess of 200 million Twitter users, it has become a phenomenon that’s decidedly difficult to ignore. Across the globe, savvy corporations, independent businesses and health care practitioners alike are using social media platforms to expand customer bases, while also branding their products and services. And even more importantly for those offering chiropractic care, these outlets are allowing DCs to build a stronger sense of community among their practice members.
“One of the things I love about social networking is that it not only offers the opportunity to be part of a group, but it also allows people to be active participants,” says Dr. Ian Shtulman, a Lake Worth, Fla.-based chiropractor who often utilizes social media for his practice. “[Patients] can post, they can comment, they can ask questions, they can share our pictures or articles with friends and family, and it’s a great way to spread the [chiropractic] message.”
Because she has a strong community-oriented practice, April Warhola, D.C., says she has made a considerable effort to engage and connect with local businesses and markets in her Atlanta office’s neighborhood through social media.
“I use [social media] to acknowledge the people around us and give them credit for what they’re doing, and they love that sort of attention,” she says. “I’ve posted a lot of photos from neighborhood and community activities, so people can tag themselves. I think it makes people feel really special to be part of a group mentality—something that’s bigger than just going to the doctor’s office.”
For his own part, Shtulman says he’s particularly active in social media, both on the personal and professional levels. Not too long ago, he explains, some of his patients invited him into a local Facebook group of mothers who regularly post in a forum where they discuss raising children and health-related topics. A somewhat unintended outcome has been that his practice has gained new members.
“We’ve gotten several families who have engaged us through our fan page and this group,” he says. “They’ve developed a trust and a relationship with us, and have traveled past several chiropractors to see us because we’ve been able to connect with them so well online.”
Some social media and marketing experts might even say Shtulman has effectively positioned himself as an authority for definitive information among laypeople. “The thing I love about social media is that you can continually post articles, notes, status updates or tweets that bring people along on your journey,” he says. “Just having someone ‘like’ your page or follow you on Twitter, or having them visit your website once isn’t the best use of this media—the main thing is having active participants engaged in the process, seeking you [out] as an expert in the community.”
Of course, it’s impossible to accomplish this without timely, quality content. Through the various social networking outlets available, DCs can share a vast amount of valuable, educational content with people from around the world in many different formats, including blog posts, articles and video. And in the process of sharing such ideas, a DC can potentially forge relationships that last a lifetime.
At least three times a week, Warhola says she posts encouraging statements and positive affirmations through social media for her patients. Other days, she’s busily adding, advertising and promoting different events occurring in her office. “Our practice members really follow that stuff, and many of them say they can’t wait to read what I post—I feel like people are really watching what we’re doing, so our social networking interactions have been very beneficial,” she says.
Warhola says she also prefers to use social media as an educational tool by featuring testimonials from practice members. “When we’re able to put up a success story of a kid who doesn’t have ear infections anymore,” she explains, “it evokes [a lot of] questions because people traditionally think Chiropractic is just for back pain.”
In a similar sense, Shtulman says, his practice’s professional fan page is one of its most valuable outlets to the community. As a result, he tends to include interesting articles he believes will help educate practice members about healthier living.
One of Shtulman’s most popular social media postings, however, involves his practice’s youngest members. “I have a practice that provides a lot of chiropractic care to infants and children, so, with their parents’ permission, we post pictures of them as they get adjusted for the first time,” he explains. “It attracts a lot of interest and serves to open the conversation for why you take care of children. People have the opportunity to learn more about what we do and potentially refer other patients as well.”
Fenton, Mich.-based D.C. Erica Peabody says she began blogging during a time when she was traveling extensively, and her practice’s blog naturally evolved from those initial postings. “Now I look for messages from the universe and little incidents that happen throughout my day and relate them to [chiropractic] living,” she says. “Then I post that content to Facebook, which is kind of like a party where you’d share that [sort of] information. And that has been really beneficial for the practice, too.”
Shtulman’s social media strategy also includes maintaining a blog on his practice’s website and sending weekly health tips to his practice members through email. “We share both of those—the blog and the health tips—on our Facebook page and our Twitter account so that people can seek us out through all the different avenues and find a way back to our website and our social media pages.”
Certainly, social media isn’t a toy; rather, it’s a tool that can be used to build community and educate the members of a practice. However, this particular tool is one that must be used carefully—one reckless move or post, and you risk alienating your practice members.
“The big thing about social media, I think, is being congruent in every aspect of your life—the way you portray yourself and the way you portray your business,” Shtulman explains. “If you’re a chiropractor espousing natural health, you can’t post pictures of you smoking or drinking, for instance. You’d want to post a natural, health-oriented recipe from Pinterest, instead.”
Also, according to Warhola, maintaining a professional demeanor in your social media interactions is of paramount importance. “There’s a space where social media allows us to share so much about ourselves, our lives, our day-to-day activities,” she says. “I think in the professional realm, though, it’s important to protect some of your personal day-to-day business, whether it’s successes, like buying a new home, or whether it’s when you’re going through hard times.”
And as Peabody unfortunately has discovered, a certain degree of vigilance is required to maintain this congruency as well. “The key to keeping your page safe is continually monitoring it,” she says. “One time, a practice management company posted an inappropriate article on my practice page. The verbiage was something like ‘get your patients to follow your recommendations without whining,’ and it was just something we would never say or even think about saying, so that was an embarrassing moment for sure.”
Ultimately, the content that you produce and the community you create will determine your success or failure using these sites. Your online presence can be instrumental in creating rich relationships both with existing and prospective patients, so electing to project an understated, professional image as an authority and an educator is likely to yield the results you’re seeking.
Overall, the impact of this new form of communication has been to transform the world into an infinitesimally smaller place, where you can conduct business and share ideas with people from around the globe with a click of your mouse. In the end, it’s clear that social media isn’t going anywhere—thus, it’s in your best interests to begin learning how to use it to your potential.