Why physicians should build a social following

Social media isn't just for cat videos. Find out how to build a social following as a physician.

Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
20th Apr 2018 • 4m read

In 2013, the late Dr Kate Granger was in hospital with post-operative sepsis. She was unhappy, but not just because of her illness. As a terminally ill patient, she was on the other side of the care equation and was making some unsettling observations about the way we treat patients.

Handed off to multiple care providers each day, she realized that she didn’t know the name of a single one. None of the hospital staff responsible for her care had taken the time to introduce themselves. Kate realized that a basic step in communication—a simple, “Hey, I’m xxxx!”— was missing from what should be a standard part of compassionate care.

So she did something about it. She started a Twitter campaign.

Today, the #hellomynameis campaign has made over 1.8 billion impressions with an average of 6 tweets an hour. With one social media campaign, Granger began a growing movement among healthcare employees to help them deliver truly compassionate, personalized care to millions of patients. Kate was one of the thousands of prolific and influential social media users who also happen to be physicians. She understood the power of social media to effect change.

Social media offers medical professionals a channel to influence and shape the future of healthcare, right from our phones. Chances are, you likely already follow a few influential physicians on Twitter or Facebook who are revolutionizing the way we share and consume medical information. You might have even wondered how you could do the same. The good news is that starting your own social media profile isn’t difficult. The more important question is, why should you?

Find your why

Doctors build their social profiles for very different reasons. All are equally valid and yet each will have a very different flavor from the next. Many physicians simply use their social profiles for the same reasons everyone else does—to keep in touch with friends, family, and the latest cat videos (admit it!). But a whole other sub-group of doctors use their profiles for very specific purposes. When you acknowledge that the primary power of social media is to influence and inform, you will see that the opportunities for medical practitioners in the social media space are endless.

Social influence theory posits that we are influenced strongly by our perceived relationship with the influencer. We believe peer testimonials because we know our peers. We gravitate toward big brands because we see their advertising everywhere and feel connected to what they sell. In the same vein, people gravitate toward the opinions of medical professionals because they see us as authorities. They trust us. We are in a unique position on social media because we have the ability to influence our patients and inform them about the best way to interact with their own health. Many doctors use this social leverage to help them build their reputations among their own patients and potential patients too.

On the flipside, some doctors want to build a reputation amongst their peers and use their positions to share medical content and opinions with colleagues. They want to shape the industry itself, the way Kate Granger did with #hellomynameis. Some notable examples include Joel Topf MD, Bryan Vartabedian MD, Kevin Pho MD, and many more physicians who actively use their social media voices to shed light on important issues. Admittedly, there has been a lot of concern about the use of social media by medical professionals. Concern over privacy, sharing generalized medical advice, and liability have all surfaced as things to consider before building a social profile. And these concerns are perfectly valid. The British Medical Association, among many other top medical bodies, have issued advice on how to navigate the potentially murky waters of medical social media.

But don’t let these concerns keep you from (at least considering) the possibility that you could add your voice to the thousands of others building their influence in the social sphere. But before you start, you need to know why you’re doing it in the first place! Here are a few questions to help guide your answer:

Patients or colleagues? The first and most important step is to work out who your audience will be. Do you want to aim your content at patients or do you want to build a following of other doctors? This is crucial because it will determine the type of content (and therefore, following) that you generate.

What am I good at? Are you a paediatrician? Cardiologist? Nephrologist? Internist? Chances are you will want to focus on what you specialize in, or at least let it inform what you do.

What am I passionate about? Continuing on from the point above, it is not enough to simply talk about what you’re good at. To be good at the social media game, you need to add some personality to your content. There are thousands of others who do what you do. Unless you are hyper-specialized in one specific area, your interests and personality will need to mesh with your speciality to create your unique social media voice.

Where is my niche? Combining the two answers above, you will have the beginnings of a niche area that you can build content around. Are you a cardiologist with a passion for fitness? Combine the two and see if there’s a space for you to create or curate content around both areas of interest.

How will I produce content? There are two ways of distributing content on social media—create it or curate it. Either you can write your own blog posts or social media updates with your own unique content, or you can share that of others. Most social media influencers do a combination of both.

Building a social media profile can take a long time and lots of hard work. Work out whether it is something you want to invest in and why you want to do it before embarking on the journey. Do you have tips for building a social media following? We would love to hear about them below!