A few simple tricks can improve social media postings
■ A practical look at information technology issues and usage
Physicians launching a social media presence may think they have to post every hour, every day. But it turns out that the most effective social media plans focus less on quantity and more on consistency and quality.
Experts say the highest volume of traffic on social media sites occurs between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time. Therefore, posts made during those hours have the best shot of being seen. But that doesn't mean a practice needs to shut down for four hours while the staff composes tweets and Facebook posts. Those times can be modified for each practice, and planning can help practices stay engaged on social media while not being distracted from patients.
Jennifer Thomas, MD, a pediatrician in Franklin, Wis., knows how hard it is for a small practice to find time for social media. She actively manages two Facebook pages that have a combined following of nearly 4,000 people. She tends to post in the morning, before she sees patients. The content is generally collected that morning through Google alerts she sets up for topics she thinks her patients will find interesting.
She said planning would probably make it easier for her, but what she's doing is workable. Because social media is the way patients connect nowadays, it's a necessary task.
"I'm not trying to do anything special except maintain relationships," she said.
Betsy Weaver, president, founder and CEO of UbiCare, a social media management firm in Jamaica Plain, Mass., said identifying the message, goal and audience helps practices develop a workable schedule for developing, gathering and posting social media content.
Weaver refers to this step of planning as "creating the social media diet." This matters because "not all content is created equal," she said. Each "diet" requires a different amount of prep time and different schedules for posting.
Content that takes more time to gather can be planned way ahead of the time the practice plans to post it. Depending on the timeliness of the subject, it can be planned months, days or even hours in advance, Weaver said.
For example, because Mother's Day is in May, content during the month could focus on women's health. If a practice plans to provide information on the latest studies about women's health, some research time near the posting date may be required to capture the most recent news. But if the practice plans to post evidence-based tips that have long been established, the planning can be done ahead of time. A post containing information on a particular service offered by the practice won't take much prep time at all.
Some experts recommend making a rough schedule of what content will be posted and when. Even if the specific information has not been identified, targeting a general topic will help.
Amanda Vega, a Phoenix-based social media consultant, said 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. may be a good posting time for businesses looking for volume, but that's not always the case for physician practices, especially if they post about health topics.
"I've found more pertinent traffic for physicians between 7 p.m. and midnight, when people are searching online for answers because their doctor's offices are closed," she said.
No matter what time a practice posts, it's more important to be consistent, said Monique Ramsey, principal of Cosmetic Social Media, a consultancy in La Jolla, Calif., that helps practices create and maintain a social media presence.
"I'd rather see consistency than the perfect time of day," she said.
Anthony Lafauce, director of digital strategy for Spectrum Science, a Washington-based health and science public relations firm, said if a practice decides an ideal time to post happens to be an inconvenient time for the people doing the posting, there are tools to help.
Websites such as HootSuite and TweetDeck allow users to craft content in advance and schedule a time when it will automatically post to a Twitter account. There also are tools within Facebook that allow Twitter updates to be posted to Facebook, and vice versa.
Most experts recommend only one or two posts a day, and definitely no more than three. Too many posts can result in the audience tuning out.
Vega said the posts should be spaced out. But the person in charge of the social media presence should make time to interact with followers and respond to things they post.
Managing social media presence can be made easier by involving several people in the practice, Ramsey said. Doctors could assign specific employees to a specific day they are in charge of social media, so the experience is spread among the staff.