Tips for leaving a social media 'digital footprint'

As more providers continue to join the ranks of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, they must be sure to pay extra attention to establishing their digital footprint, according to Gregg Masters, a healthcare social media advocate and consultant who spoke at last week's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference in Las Vegas.

Masters's primary message: Stepping into social media means you've made the decision to be seen, "the good, the bad and the indifferent," he noted. He shared the strategy of one of his clients, San Diego-based oncologist Richard Just, who last year started the blog, JustOncology.com. Just's push into the space wasn't approached half-heartedly but rather very strategically, Masters pointed out. Along with the blog, Just created a Twitter handle (@chemosabe1) and started an Internet radio show and a quarterly digital magazine.

"Once you decide to step into social media, you've made the decision to become a publisher," Masters said. "It's a lot of work. Every tweet is indexed as a web page."

Despite Just's detailed approach, Masters also shared advice from fellow social media advocate Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatrician  based in Houston. According to Vartabedian, there's no one way to build a digital footprint. One suggestion Masters shared was rather than going into the process blind, find a role model and take a page out of their playbook.

Additionally, at a preconference symposium hosted by the College of Healthcare Management Information Executives, Seattle-based pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, another social media evangelist, spoke at length about how to get through to patients using tools, including Twitter and YouTube. She said that physicians need to get over their phobia of messaging patients online because that's where a majority of consumers are congregating. She also shared a few of her own rules for social media use, such as never posting patient specifics and never posting anonymously.

Social media--and Twitter, in particular--no doubt played a big part in shaping this year's HIMSS conference. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone gave the conference's first keynote address on Tuesday. Although Stone's overarching themes of helping creativity to thrive and using information responsibly weren't necessarily health-centric, they nevertheless resonated with the audience of health professionals.

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