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Target your social media use to your intended audience

A practical look at information technology issues and usage

By — Posted June 14, 2010.

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While many social media users focus on the number of LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends or Twitter followers they have, experts say the focus should be on quality versus quantity.

Social media experts use the term "influencers" when referring to the connections one should make when using social media for marketing.

Influencers don't just help spread a message -- they help generate action. Therefore, consultants say any social media marketing campaign or strategy should be targeted to the influencers, not the masses.

And physicians trying to establish their own reputations or brand should not only want to find the influencers, but also establish themselves as influencers.

"While network size is about tracking reach and volume of activity, a network is only as valuable as the quality of its connections," wrote Julie M. Katz in "Defining Influence as a Strategic Marketing Metric," a research project for Forrester Research, headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. "An individual ignored by thousands is hardly influential. But an individual who reaches a few highly trusting peers wields enormous influence over those connections."

Katz defines influencers as credible people whose connections are likely to follow their advice. They also can be influential by disseminating information that relates to their audience.

Brent Csutoras, senior vice president of viral marketing at 10e20, a social media marketing firm based in New York City, said if the goal is to sell a name or brand on a national level, there is more value in having large numbers. But a national following won't help most physicians whose target is a local audience.

Some social media sites have filters that can help identify possible connections by listing users from a specific geographic area or by occupation or interests, among other criteria.

Monique Ramsey, principal of Cosmetic Social Media, La Jolla, Calif., a consultancy that helps practices create and maintain a social media presence, said doctors can find out where their patients are congregating online by using online survey tools, such as surveymonkey.com. These companies invite participation via e-mail, so physicians will need to provide a list of their patients' e-mails.

Or doctors can find out where their patients are online by including questions about a patient's social media use on a patient sign-in sheet.

Csutoras said there are other ways to establish connections. A physician could search in Twitter for all postings mentioning certain insurers. The doctor could click on those posters' profiles to check if they match his or her location. This could open up the opportunity to have potential or even current patients following in return.

The influencers in a physician's patient population are active participants in whatever community -- Twitter, Facebook, etc, they join.

Csutoras defines them as "real users," not just those who create accounts and occasionally post an item or two. Real users not only post, but they respond to what others have posted or said.

Once you have identified the targeted group on influencers, "Go there and engage," Ramsey said.

Physicians whose goal is to establish themselves as experts among their peers should start by making a list of 50 key influencers in their specialty and connect with them through LinkedIn, a leading professional social media site, and other platforms, Ramsey said.

Several online lists exist to locate experts in a particular field. One is organizedwisdom.com, which recognizes physicians as experts in providing health information; another is findanexpertonline.com, which links to various expert sites by category.

Physicians can also use local or national medical organizations to connect with other doctors, Csutoras said.

"You want to strategically position yourself as the expert, so involve yourself in peer-to-peer networking groups. Check in often and comment on the questions people post," Ramsey said. "Learn from what they are doing online, and see how you may be able to help them achieve more, and vice versa."

The biggest social media mistake you can make, according to Ramsey, is to set yourself up on a site and never pay attention to it.

"It would be like attending a party and deliberately ignoring everyone there. Or coming to the party and leaving without saying a word to anyone," Ramsey said. "If your heart isn't into it, your audience will know and they will gravitate to someone whose is."

Csutoras said the key is to use social media as a real social environment. "I hate to see people go after these clearly as a gaming mechanism," he said.

"I think that these are things that can help you to select better people to engage with, but I think you should still engage with them. The people you add should be people you actually want to engage in conversation with and not someone you want to ... use for your marketing game."

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