Today we live in a world where an online presence isn’t just recommended, it’s a given. If you have any kind of business, practice, or other public presence you already have an online presence as well. Profiles are automatically generated by review sites, online yellow pages, and even Google. So the question is not whether you will have an online presence, but whether you are leveraging the presence you already have.
We’re looking at the top ten online tools for developing your practice and managing your online reputation. Some of these are simple, one time, profile set-ups on accounts that only need to be checked in on occasionally, while others are tools that you can actively manage to better engage patients, potential patients, and the community.
- Your Website – Let’s start with the big one. Of course, if you work with a group or for a hospital this is probably a non-issue for you. But if you have a private practice you need to not only have a website, but you need to have a good website. This doesn’t mean a fancy website, or an expensive website. It means something that is clean, simple, up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing, and useful. These days that can be done pretty easily. If none of your staff are especially tech savvy you should be able to contract someone at a reasonable cost to put together a basic but attractive and effective website for you with no trouble at all. Remember, a lot of people today look exclusively online for services, and your website is often where you make your first impression.
- Facebook – It’s not just for sharing cat pictures anymore. Facebook has become a staple of online life. And really, that’s good for you because it is one of the simplest, most intuitive platforms out there, and everybody uses it. So be sure you set up a profile for your practice. Facebook is a great outlet for sharing patient testimonials (with permission), keeping in touch with patients, putting out reminders, anecdotes, and any other public information. Keep in mind that nothing on Facebook (or any social media platform) should be considered private, and certainly not HIPAA compliant, so it’s only for general information. But that being said it is a great way to communicate something like a schedule change, office closing, or a reminder about breast cancer awareness month.
- Google+/Google Place – This is one that is slowly catching on. While as a social platform it’s not as ubiquitous as Facebook, it is very important for developing your online presence. Because of Google’s dominance in the cyber world they are able to determine to a large degree what kinds of things turn up near the top of an internet search. Well, no surprise, Google Place pages are top performers. More than that though, your business probably already has something like a stub of a Google Place page. Search the name of your practice in Google and see if you don’t get some info on the right side bar. There might even be a review or two. Well, you can turn that into a Google Place page and actually fill out the all the information, add a picture of your practice or your staff to the banner, add hours, make sure the address and directions are correct, and more. Most importantly, if you can get a few of your patients to write reviews on that page, you can dramatically improve the search priority, which means more positive exposure for your practice.
- YP – Remember at the beginning we said that some of these are mostly one time set up tools that only need to be checked on from time to time? Well, we’re getting to those now. YP (formerly Yellow Pages), has reinvented itself for the online world. All you need to do here is find the entry for your business, which more than likely already exists, make sure that the info they already have is all correct, and then fill out the profile a little. Add a few pictures, fill in the general information section and generally just provide the information you want people to be able to find. YP pages always come up near the top of searches for businesses. After that, just check in every now and then to see what kind of reviews people are leaving. If you do happen to find a negative one, you may be able to make contact with the patient and work things out.
- Yelp – Similar to YP, Yelp has become a go to source for both finding and reviewing businesses and services. Again, even though its primary use is for restaurants and entertainment, a lot of people use it for everything. And especially because it is so popular as an app, people tend to use it with greater consistency than some of the other review sites. Again, just fill out the profile and then check the reviews from time to time. If people are going to look your business up on these sites you might as well make sure that what they find is what you want them to find, right?
- Angie’s List – Angie’s list is slightly different from the two above in that it is a subscription based site. People take the reviews here a little more seriously than those on the free sites, because they are paying for moderated, non-anonymous reviews. But it doesn’t cost you anything to create and/or fill out your practice’s profile, so why not?
- LinkedIn – You probably already have a LinkedIn Account, but just keep in mind that it doesn’t have to only be for professional networking. LinkedIn also allows you to have an outward facing company page where you can post information, keep in touch with clients, and more than anything just add another point of potential contact with patients and prospective patients. You can even cross post the same or similar updates on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. If you’re going to do that you might look into a social media manager like HootSuite that will allow you to automate and even schedule updates across all your social media channels.
- Rating Sites (Healthgrades.com, RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, etc.) – These are probably not your favorite websites, and indeed they are prone to attract internet trolls, people with axes to grind, and other unsavory characters. But, the fact is that people use them… a lot. And, alongside the disgruntled folks there are people that provide really good, helpful reviews on these sites. So, given that they are out there it’s worth taking the time to fill out the profiles, put a smiling face in place of that blank avatar, and just keep an eye on the reviews.
- Twitter – This one is probably the most personality dependent. If you’re gregarious and like to be constantly socially connected, or if you have a very lively relationship with your clients where they like to hear from you on a regular basis it can be a great tool. If not, it’s not something to worry about. People don’t expect their doctor to have a Twitter feed the way they expect to be able to find your practice’s Facebook page. If you do Tweet just be careful and always, always keep it professional.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Up there with your website this is probably the most technical, specialized tool on our list, but it can be very beneficial. SEO is the process of making your website more visible to search engines and more highly ranked by them. It’s accomplished in many ways but it is something that, should you decide to pursue it, you’ll probably want to contract to someone who does it professionally. As with building your website, there are lots of people that can help you with this, but also, as with building your website, make sure you get someone who knows what they are doing, because there are also lots of self-designated “SEO specialists” that may or may not really be doing you much good.
Well, that’s our list. Let us know in the comments if you think we left anything crucial out. If this list seems overwhelming just remember that building an online presence isn’t something you have to do overnight. Just pick one of the simple suggestions (like filling out your YP profile) and go try it. You can have it done in less than 15 minutes. Better yet, share this post with one of your staff and delegate! Getting started on building out your online presence could be a great summer intern project!