Maintaining an online presence and cultivating a positive online reputation is more important than ever for O&P facilities. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Internet users have searched online for health information, and 77% of these online health care seekers started their search through a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo. O&P facility owners need to ensure their practice is prominent in these online searches and that the information being disseminated is positive.
With the day-to-day demands of running a business, monitoring a number of different social media sites and creating new online content can be another overwhelming item on the to-do list. But according to O&P consultants and practitioners with experience in this area, there are many efficient and effective ways to create online content and monitor a business’s online reputation.
Budget time to post content
For owners of smaller businesses who are handling social media on their own, finding time to manage social media and online content each week can be a daunting task. Elizabeth Mansfield, president of Outsource Marketing Solutions and vice president of Clinical Education Concepts, suggested practitioners focus mainly on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. All online content can be repurposed on other social media sites, and some like Instagram also allow users to post on other platforms simultaneously.
“Instagram is probably underutilized in O&P, and O&P is such a visual business that practitioners should be taking advantage of anything that allows them to show pictures of what they are doing,” Mansfield said.
In addition, Facebook allows users to schedule posts ahead of time.
“You could sit down for an hour and do a week’s worth of posts,” Mansfield said.
“The highest priority for practitioners when managing their online presence is creating good content and finding a tool that lets them use that content in multiple places,” Karen Lundquist, director of Communications, North America, at Ottobock, said. According to Lundquist, tools like Hootsuite, which offers a free version of its product, allow users to post on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook simultaneously.
Katie M. Kolcun, marketing specialist at Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics Inc., said her company has a routine in place to consistently build their online reputation on all the platforms they use.
“You should get a feel for how much time you should be spending on each site and make it a daily routine to have a couple of posts up, and maybe later in the day, you could spend about 20 minutes on your sites to see if you are getting any feedback,” she said.
The amount of time spent on social media and online branding may also fluctuate each week depending on events or other happenings within the company, according to Kolcun.
Jeffrey M. Brandt, CPO, founder and chief executive officer of Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics Inc., suggested practices sign up for weekly reports through Google Analytics or a paid service that provides information, such as who has visited the website, comments that have been made, phone calls that came in via the website and click-through rates.
“One thing I found beneficial early on in the life of the company was going to Google Analytics and finding out how many site visits I had that week,” Brandt said. “The minute I announced a new press release, I would see an increase, so I decided, all right, let’s announce more things. [If] you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.”
Monitor patient comments
First and foremost, clinicians should be aware of comments being made about their business online.
“Practitioners need to be especially aware of Facebook comments,” Lundquist said. “It seems like that is where the majority of people are going, especially when there is not another route for them to give feedback, [such as surveys or a way to contact the company through the website].”
Patients will not necessarily comment on the clinician’s Facebook page, but may also comment on the Amputee Coalition’s Facebook page, for example, or even their personal Facebook pages, according to Lundquist. In addition, they may also leave comments about an O&P business on Yelp and other similar review sites, according to Mansfield. She recommends businesses sign up for Google Alerts for the business and for the owner and staff members who interact with patients. Google Alerts will notify practitioners if they or their business have been mentioned on the Internet.
“They should take into account misspellings of things like prosthetics or orthotics,” she added.
Practitioners should respond to comments as soon as they are aware of them.
“Practitioners should acknowledge an unhappy person and apologize with a general apology,” Mansfield said. “But when they are looking to solve a problem, they should do so privately. They should not get into an online jousting session with the person who is unhappy, but they should not look like they are ignoring it.”
Mansfield suggested messaging the commenter privately or calling them after offering a general apology online. She also added that many happy customers may come to your aid.
“Most O&P places are smaller and are involved in their patients’ lives; they have a personal connection,” she said. “If you see somebody bashing your practice, you will have people who will love to defend you.”
Brandt agreed with reaching out individually to patients who leave a negative comment about the company. His practices provide patient satisfaction forms to each patient, so if they come across a negative comment, they first check to see if the patient filled out a form.
“We usually engage them and say we are aware of their comment and apologize (if need be) and then provide them with a patient satisfaction form, which in our opinion is the correct pathway or method through which they should be voicing those statements, not necessarily voicing them in public, when we have not had a chance to necessarily address it or make it right,” Brandt said.
Ottobock has created a decision tree to guide staff in responding to comments on social media.
“So that you are not trying to triage a comment in the heat of the moment, this tree guides you in how we handle complaints,” Lundquist said. “We classify comments in two ways: by the level of potential ‘virality,’ for lack of a better word — is this something that will have a lot of legs and people will comment and share? — and then the level of seriousness — if there is an injury or complaint involved, you want to address that right away, every way that you can.”
Lundquist also recommended addressing personal complaints individually and offline. “There is always more to every story, and trying to have a conversation in typing, in short messages, with a delay between the responses is not a great way to get the whole story,” she said. “That is why we try to connect personally and have a phone conversation — something that gets to the heart of the matter.”
As for non-negative comments, such as questions about a device’s battery life, for example, Lundquist recommended responding directly online because other patients may have similar questions and the comment offers an education opportunity.
Mansfield also stressed the importance of acknowledging positive comments and to thank people for their comments. “It takes effort for people to show their appreciation, so it is nice to acknowledge it,” she said.
Brandt also suggested practices monitor whether their company is listed properly on different sites like Google Maps. “Spend some time [searching] or Googling your company to make sure that you are not listed incorrectly or your address is not listed incorrectly in an online directory or on sites that are specific to our profession,” Brandt said. “Make sure those sites have your employees listed properly. When other people build things and they do not pay attention to detail, I feel it becomes a reflection of your company. If you are not out policing your reputation, no one else will.”
Placement in search
To maintain a positive online presence, O&P practitioners need to ensure their business holds a prominent place in searches on search engines like Google. “Search engines are looking for whether your content is valuable, whether it is something that people are searching out and whether it is something that people are connecting to,” Lundquist said.
To improve placement in online searches, practices should continually refine their search words by always using the most relevant product words, according to Brandt.
“We are always trying to refine our search,” he said. “You can also do paid placements and try to increase your position on the first screen of these searches by using paid advertising dollars.”
Brandt’s company also works with ReachLocal, an online marketing and advertising solution provider, to help localize the search for the practices within his company.
“All of our offices in each of their markets can essentially obtain higher placements when folks in those towns are doing searches for a prosthetic device,” he said.
To generate content, Lundquist recommended linking to groups like the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association or the Amputee Coalition. In addition, practitioners also can share content from referrals and manufacturers with whom they work.
“It is important to support your referrals and O&P manufacturers on social media,” Kolcun said. “We should maintain good relations in this field.”
Patient testimonials, whether written or recorded on video, provide an optimal avenue for content generation. Mansfield suggested that rather than embed videos on a practice’s website, practitioners should create their own YouTube channel.
“Google owns YouTube, so you can dramatically improve your practice’s search engine results if you have a YouTube channel because the video results will come up in the first half of your results page,” she said.
Mansfield also suggested practices link between their website and YouTube channel.
To obtain patient testimonials, Mansfield said, all that practitioners need to do is ask. Practices should have signage in their waiting rooms and fitting rooms to advertise their Facebook page and ask patients to provide feedback.
“What I like to tell people at the front desk is that they should be aware of their role in the marketing department for that company,” Mansfield said.
If patients comment to the front-desk staff or any other staff member about a positive experience they had with the practice, Mansfield encourages them to ask patients for their comment in writing. Practices should provide forms for patients to write their comments, as well as release forms.
The patient can write two or three sentences about their experience right there in the office, the staff member can take a picture of the patient, and the practice will then have a full testimonial to use on their website and other online platforms.
“As long as you have the proper release, you can use the testimonial yourself,” Mansfield said. “That is what practitioners say is the hardest part — getting people to go home and provide comment. If it is happening organically, capture it in that moment. Make sure everyone in the company has the same mindset when it comes to social media.”
Lundquist suggested helping patients write their testimonials by offering to proof them or interviewing them and writing the testimonial for them.
Eventually, patients may offer to provide testimonials after seeing other patients’ stories.
“Our patients are frequently inquiring how they can share their story after seeing other patients’ posts. Often we have patients [who say], ‘I saw that post of an amputee patient the other day, and I would love to get involved in some way,’” Kolcun said.
Brandt continually reminds practitioners in his company to encourage their patients to share their stories.
“If they do not share those stories, a lot of times because of how small the profession is, the story goes untold,” Brandt said. “Not every story is going to be newsworthy or [public relations] worthy, but there are patients when you are in the room with them that you could say at the end of their appointment, ‘Are you active on any of the social media sites?’ If they are [active] and they are willing to share their story, we encourage them to post something.”
Brandt noted these stories can be impactful for non-patients as well.
“If you do not tell these stories, you are at a disadvantage from a professional standpoint because people do not even have to be afflicted by needing a limb or a brace to be impacted by these stories,” he said. “An [abled-bodied] person may see a post on Facebook about a patient receiving two limbs that day at Ability, and that person may have a neighbor who is an amputee and may want to share the story with the neighbor. These stories are potentially worth so much more to folks if you get them out there. To work in such a rewarding and impactful field, I think it would be a sin not to use social media.”
“The more we are showing a presence on all of our online sites, the more our patients are responsive to that,” said Kolcun. “With that said, we always try to engage inspirational stories and photos to make our patients and other referral sources see us as someone they can trust and feel comfortable with. It also makes them want to post positive reviews.”
Lundquist also recommended practitioners periodically set aside time to audit their entire brand experience.
“Come to your website, come to your social media pages and even your office and call your staff and see what the experience is like,” she said. “Make sure it is consistent with the experience you want to have with what you think your clinic stands for. If I come to your website and then visit your Facebook page and then call you, am I getting the same warm reception or the same type of welcome that you want me to get?”
Brandt echoed this point and said practices need to stick to their brand and showcase it in their online presence.
“I have always found that when you commit to branding, marketing and awareness and tell patient stories, it has a way of helping you grow,” he said. “When you sit down and make a commitment to have an online presence and spend dedicated time updating your website or posting some things you do on Facebook, your viewers/followers/potential clients love the freshness, and then you get that reputation and cannot stop. The momentum is so great and you have so many stories, it starts feeding itself.” – by Tina DiMarcantonio
- Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Health Fact Sheet. www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/health-fact-sheet.
Disclosures: Brandt, Kolcun, Lundquist and Mansfield report no relevant financial disclosures.