By Jennifer LeClaire
The Internet has opened a new world of communication—and marketing—to chiropractors. But if you are not careful with your words, you could open a Pandora’s box that harms your credibility in the real world as well as the virtual one. Indeed, we often say things via the Internet that we would not say in everyday conversation. That—along with the fact that you cannot always accurately read a person’s tone through written language—can lead to misunderstandings and divisions. Chiropractors have a responsibility to hold themselves accountable for what they say in any medium and take special care not to spread false information—like unproven health claims—through email and social media.
“Chiropractors are passionate professionals who have traditionally had to fight for their beliefs,” says Jason Deitch, president of Chiro Social Media Academy. “Fighting for what you believe in is one thing when it is a verbal, face-to-face discussion. It becomes something dramatically different on the Internet, where information lives forever. Unfortunately, many chiropractors aren’t necessarily as concerned as they should be about how they represent themselves online.”
Trolling—defined as posting abusive, confrontational or inflammatory messages or comments—is an unfortunate reality in the virtual world. The anonymous nature of the Internet increases the likelihood for unethical or abusive behavior, a phenomenon known as the “the online disinhibition effect.” “The anonymity of the online world creates the feeling that there are few or no consequences or repercussions for bad behavior. ‘Who’s going to know?’ is what many [people] are thinking,” says Susan Baroncini-Moe, a marketing consultant and president of American Business Partners. “In fact, one of the things that’s fascinating about trolling is that sometimes the people you’d least expect to be trolls—the people who are good, kind people in person—can be transformed into abusive, name-calling, nasty trolls online.”
The feeling of distance from other people that one experiences online often increases this disinhibition effect. This feeling is called “emotional dislocation” and can result in an individual forgetting that the others he or she is abusing are real, live human beings with feelings and emotions. We lose some of the connectedness of real-life, face-to-face interactions and stop thinking of other people online as real.
Some of the trolling that happens online is driven by people who are propagating false information, which could easily cross the line from offensive to dangerous. The information superhighway is overflowing with facts and findings on just about every topic under the sun. Health care information comes from varied sources, but not all of them are reliable. Chiropractors need to vet information from online sources before disseminating it to patients and other doctors—or before assuming it is true when it comes to their own practice.
Vetting sources is becoming more and more challenging, but knowing how sources are compiled on different sites can help. For example, virtually anyone can write and edit a Wikipedia entry, so while there may be experts who have contributed to articles, there are also non-experts who are either mistaken or who deliberately post incorrect information to advance an agenda. “You should always take everything you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. Before passing along alerts or emergencies, it is your responsibility to vet them,” says Jodi R. R. Smith, principal of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “Many of the Internet scams and rumors are simply recycled, which means you can check Snopes.com to see what is true. It is proper and polite to inform the original poster if you have found the information to be false.”
Part of building a credible social media presence means not offering inaccurate health care information, but it goes beyond that. First and foremost, chiropractors must understand the power and potential of social media. You can use social media to reach out to current and potential patients, educate them and engage with them in a way that you have never been able to do before. “Social media can make you the go-to person in your profession, both locally and nationally,” Baroncini-Moe says. “It’s one of the most inexpensive but effective ways to increase your practice that you can put in place today. But it’s critically important that you do it the right way.”
Building a credible social media presence begins with creating a personal profile on Facebook and LinkedIn, then creating a professional page for the practice. Next, decide on the purpose of your page. Are you trying to teach people about the benefits of Chiropractic? Encourage people to learn more about wellness? Educate people on a specific chiropractic niche? By defining a purpose, your Facebook page becomes more than a marketing tool—it becomes a community resource.
“People don’t necessarily come to your page looking for white papers on chiropractic. That’s not the value of social media for your practice,” says Deitch. “People can search for articles on Chiropractic’s impact on headaches. What people want from you is your opinion. They want to know who is the best personal trainer in town or what massage therapist they should go to or what supplements they should take or what types of stretches they should do.” The idea, Deitch says, is to create a community, complete with local community resources. Your Facebook page then becomes an online local health and wellness resource center that patients turn to when they need information. That is much more valuable, he says, than posting marketing messages about discounts on X-rays and adjustments. Educational videos, which can be posted to YouTube or Facebook, are also valuable.
Striking a balance between being professional, positive and approachable can help you use social media to your benefit. “I’ve seen many companies just try to sell, sell, sell, and I think that the consumer can see right through that,” says Daryl Hatfield, digital marketing specialist at Garden State Homes. “Social media is still in its infancy and everyone is still trying to figure it out; however, you have to be the consumer’s friend who happens to be in a certain field. What could be more positive than being viewed as someone’s responsible, professional friend?”
Baroncini-Moe offers some additional tips for chiropractors looking to build a credible social media presence: Remind your staff that your social media sites are as much a professional setting as your office. Anything they say is likely to have an impact on how the practice is perceived, which is a significant part of your practice’s brand and the growth of your business. Generally, it is a good idea to avoid religious, political, financial and personal topics. However, an overly professional tone in your social media may make your company sound cold rather than welcoming. Just as in the office, you want your staff to be friendly and warm, while also maintaining a professional, positive tone. That tone should also translate to your social media sites.
In addition to your public-facing social media efforts, it is vital to maintain cordial relationships with other chiropractors, alternative medicine practitioners, medical doctors and other health care providers. “Just like an Evite signals a casual gathering and an engraved invitation a formal one, social media is a great way to share small bits of information with a large audience, but not an appropriate place for a philosophical argument. It is not a good forum for a religious or policy debate,” says Smith. “If this is a relationship you value, you [should] hide their posts, or discuss your differing points of view over a beer. To post increasingly nasty messages on each other’s pages is both passive-aggressive and immature. There are times when adults simply need to agree to disagree and move on to a different topic.”
As Hatfield sees it, you should never debate an opinion in a public forum in which anyone can comment. This could be viewed as troll bait and you could be the victim. That doesn’t mean that all arguments are bad, as progress can usually be made from intelligent debate, he says, but it just takes one irrational third party to stir the emotions of everyone involved and cause a blowout.
“Always think before you type and never respond online when you’re angry or upset. Never, ever click ‘send’ until you’ve stepped away for a while and then re-read what you want to send. In fact, some of my clients have found it helpful to write responses in a word processor first, to avoid any accidental sends,” Baroncini-Moe says. “When in doubt, whenever you can, pick up the phone or stop by the person’s office. Transferring an online conversation into a face-to-face interaction can often have a calming effect. It also reminds you of the ‘humanness’ of the people you talk to online.”
Remind yourself that anything you say online or in person has an impact on how you—and by extension, your brand and your practice—are perceived. Always maintain a professional, positive tone and do not allow yourself to get involved in online disputes.
Avoid disputes by creating a strategy for your social media presence and sticking to it. “Facebook is the most powerful and influential place because it’s where you connect with people. A social strategy is different than a search strategy, and our profession has not embraced the opportunity that social media offers to the degree we can and should,” says Deitch. “If used correctly, social media can be the tool that finally allows the public to understand and appreciate who we are and what we do. We have every opportunity to learn how to use this technology to collectively change the world. If we don’t, others will continue to do so, and we will continue to live frustratingly as a result of being misunderstood.”