3 social media faux pas and how to avoid them

Social media is everywhere. This column itself, if readers see its value, will potentially find its way to some of you via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Google+. As this medium grows ever-more powerful, so too does the importance of using it well.

Just being "out there" isn't enough to distinguish your practice anymore. Now you essentially have not just your geographical, but your virtual community in which to establish yourself as an authority in your specialty, a superb place to get treatment, a top-notch employer and a steward of your profession.

To do so, let's move our discussion beyond the reasons to use social media and how to get started to understanding some of the nuances of how relationships evolve online. At your next face-to-face meeting to discuss your social-media strategy (something you'll ideally revisit at least every few months), consider the following discussion points:

Is your content understandable to your audience? The average American reads at a 7th or 8th grade reading level (calculated in part based on the length and number of syllables in each sentence), but most patient education materials provided by specialty societies are far less readable to a general audience, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

With this in mind, make sure your own postings are factual and grammatically accurate, but free of unnecessary jargon and flourish. Analogies are often a helpful way to convey medical concepts, but be mindful of using too many, and note to readers that your simplified illustration (e.g., comparing an aneurysm to a bubble in a tire) may not track with reality perfectly.

There are times when an advanced piece of writing will be the most appropriate to share with patients. When you can't access material on the subject that is written in a patient-friendly way, consider writing the essential information in a blog post or handout of your own.

Is your tone appropriate? A recent post from Physicians Practice provides a good reminder to make sure your postings aren't too promotional. As medical marketing consultant and family physician Michael Woo-Ming, M.D., M.P.H, wrote, "Avoid making your blog posts outright sales pitches. This will only turn the reader off. Giving them content they can use or will find interesting is the best way to keep them reading."

I couldn't agree more. What I'd like to add, though, from my personal observations, is to be careful of sounding too snarky or sensational, especially when praising or debunking the latest medical "news." A tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic tone dominates a great deal of postings, especially on blogs and Twitter. When done well, witty posts can also be fun and tasteful. But just like with email and text messages, remember that tone is very difficult to convey in writing, and not everyone appreciates irony or even humor when it comes to their health or healthcare. When in doubt, keep it professional. Don't try to force your personality into your online conversation, but let it find its way out naturally.

Before you post anything, picture yourself making the same comment aloud at a cocktail party. If you can envision the person you're speaking to making a confused or offended face or asking you to please explain what you meant by that remark, revise to make it clear the first time.

Are you getting all of the messages people are sending? Another easy social media faux pas to make, and one I've made myself, is failing to respond to messages people send you via social media. Now, as we've advised before, you don't need to respond to every comment people make on your Facebook posts or "@" reply you get on Twitter.

When people reach out to you directly, however, at least acknowledge that you got the message. The problem is that a lot of times people fail to do so. New Twitter users, for example, may not realize they have a backlog of "direct messages" waiting for them until they one day get curious about what that little envelope icon in the top-right corner of their profile page does. I've fallen into this trap myself with Twitter accounts linked to email addresses I don't use regularly, and therefore miss notifications.

Facebook business pages also allow users to send private messages (emails) to administrators, but more than once I've had my own messages to companies go unanswered--and, judging by the lack of the checkmark appearing to the left of the message--unread. As an administrator of a few pages myself, I can tell you that I've almost missed a few of these notes. They're not easy to see. The "messages" section is a small, unimportant-looking box in the top-right corner of the admin panel, and the notifications function isn't always reliable.

Therefore, keeping in mind that the functionalities of all of these sites change regularly, schedule a daily time to check your various inboxes specifically. And if you don't respond right away, write yourself a reminder to do so, since the site will stop doing so once the message is read.

I hope these tips are helpful to you as you take your social media presence to the next level. If you have any insights to add to the list, please add them here. - Deb(@PracticeMgt)

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