The use of social media is a tricky business. A recent Wall Street Journal article points out the challenges that CEOs and business leaders face when using Twitter. Many CEOs and other executives relate stories of personal attacks and cyber stalking from disgruntled customers, former employees or competitors. Some have opted out of the social media space due to specific legal concerns. Other very successful business leaders continue to embrace social media and have developed a knack for keeping their tweets and posts professional. It is clear that social media is here to stay and that it can be a very effective marketing tool.
In Medicine, social media can have far reaching effects. Twitter can allow a clinician to reach, educate and interact with a wide audience of patients, partners, and colleagues. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, social media is an effective tool for widespread communication and public relations. Nearly 50% of all Americans regularly use Facebook and almost 40% use Twitter. Often CEOs and other business leaders seem distant and unreachable; a social media presence turns icons into real people who are accessible to all. Interestingly, many executives fail to see the return on investment (ROI) from the use of twitter and other social media outlets. According to the WSJ and an article in CEO.com, 7 out of 10 leaders of fortune 500 companies have no social media presence whatsoever. However, there are real tangible benefits in both business and in medicine that can result from dedicated use of social media. An article online in April 2012 from INC.com suggests key reasons that CEOs should tweet and include connecting with employees, building relationships and connecting comfortably with the press. I believe that these applications are just the beginning. However, social media must be used responsibly and respectfully in order to be most effective.
Here are some guidelines that I like to follow when engaging professionally in social media:
1. Separate business and pleasure. A professional social media presence is just that- professional. Steer clear of posting personal items on twitter or facebook unless these are events that directly relate to or enhance your business or reputation. Certainly, it is important to help those who may follow you see you as a “real person” who is in touch with the “real world”. However, don’t cross the line.
2. Avoid polarizing topics unless the issue directly involves what you represent or stand for in your profession. For example, a discussion promoting healthcare reform or a “patient’s bill of rights” may be very appropriate for a physician to tweet or blog about. However, a physician should probably avoid posting religious or political views about abortion rights on twitter or facebook. Conversely, a CEO of an oil company may want to post about the benefits of offshore drilling even though it may be a very controversial topic. Social media allows you to tell your side of the story and can be a platform for you to provide data to support your opinion.
3. Respond to criticism in a respectful, thoughtful way. Not everyone is going to agree with you, your company or organization. Often, people feel free to express displeasure or disagreement very openly on twitter (the internet allows people to hide behind a cyber curtain). Be careful to separate emotion from your response. Acknowledge alternative opinions and provide constructive comments.
4. Avoid saying bad things about others. Social media outlets are not the place to start a war of words. Make sure that you do not say anything about competitors, colleagues or others on twitter that you would not be comfortable saying directly to those individuals. Twitter is not the place to “air dirty laundry” or discuss private matters. Remember, twitter is a megaphone that broadcasts your message to millions of potential listeners.
5. Maintain a constant presence. Once you engage in social media, it is vital to remain regularly engaged. Developing a following and a dedicated readership requires effort. You must provide fresh, relevant content. Avoid periods of “radio silence”. For instance, provide twitter content daily–spread out tweets to different parts of the day. I typically tweet several newsworthy items early in the morning and then again in the afternoon and evening. The only rule is be consistent.
Social media is the future. Early adopters are willing to take risks, have long term vision and already are able to see the ROI. Twitter, facebook, and other outlets should be part of every leader’s job and executives should be held accountable for what is and is not posted. Social media provides opportunities in both medicine and business in general to educate, motivate and influence opinions. Careful attention to keeping posts professional and thoughtful will provide the best results. The world is getting smaller everyday. Twitter and social media outlets allow us to connect, interact and collaborate to accomplish common goals. Use your voice, be heard and Tweet Away!