Personal referrals have long been the lifeblood of any medical practice. This remains true today, but the challenge for many healthcare providers have is recognizing that the process of word of mouth referrals has changed.
You may have a track record of post-surgery rapid recovery and experience in addressing a variety of injuries and degenerative diseases. But being an accomplished chiropractor, dentist or doctor is no longer sufficient to ensure patients hear about you and your practice.
You don’t have to like it, but social media has changed the patient referral landscape. Forever.
How Social Media Became the New Word of Mouth
Today, social media is the new word of mouth marketing. People aren’t restricted to asking people within the walls of their home or going through their little black book for the number of a friend who might know the answer.
For medical referrals, increasingly, they’re going online to see what other people have to say on social media.
That’s right, instead of writing a letter, phoning a friend or even their own doctor, patients are posting on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and elsewhere, “Hey all, I have X problem. Anyone have any experience with X and who might be able to help me?”
Here are the numbers according to one patient survey:
- 46% of patients trust health-related social media content shared by patients they know; 25% said they also trust the content shared by patients they don’t know
- 42% of patients said they’d share online a positive experience with their doctor, 35% said they’d share their negative experiences
- 41% of surveyed patients said that social media content influences their decisions regarding doctors, hospitals, or other medical facility
As patients become increasingly comfortable discussing their personal health online, this only sure to grow, especially since it is so easy to post to social networks when you need help with a referral!
This also suggests that the reach of medical referrals via word of mouth has grown exponentially with social media.
The geographical scope of your potential referral market has expanded. Traditional word of mouth relied on physical proximity, say parents with children attending the same school or families that attend the same church.
But with social media, prospective patients who live within your service area don’t need to happen to have a first degree connection with one of your patients to get drawn into an online conversation about your practice.
Even more interesting, social media extends the reach of word of mouth because it doesn’t require the prospective patient to ask the question. In the old world of patient referral, a prospective patient typically had to take the initiative to ask someone for a name.
With today’s social media content streams, a prospective patient may see your name or practice name discussed by others, without being in need for your services at that moment, but remember it in the future, when the time comes.
Social Media Gives You More Control Over Word of Mouth
Your practice can get mentioned on social media because someone is sharing their own experience with you.
It can also get mentioned online because someone is sharing content from you.
Whether you create your own content or only share quality medical content from other sources via your own social media profiles, you have the opportunity to become a trusted authority for people before they need you.
Now you’re creating your own word of mouth; you don’t have to wait for patients to do it for you anymore.
In fact, the content you share on social media brings with it a high degree of authority exactly because you’re the one who’s shared it. 60% of social media users say they are most likely to trust the social media posts coming from doctors, more than any other group.
The Mayo Clinic increased its podcast audience by 76,000 listeners once it started using social media.
It’s not that these 76,000 new listeners who found the podcast via social media will someday need to be a patient at the Mayo Clinic. The point is that the Mayo Clinic now has another 76,000 people sharing (or referring, if you will) their content to more people.
Social media sharing means that not only is your pool of potential referral patients growing, but the pool of people doing the referring on your behalf is growing as well.
Hear and See What Patients Are Saying
Another benefit of contemporary word of mouth is that social media lets you listen in on these conversations. Sometimes even as it happens.
(Don’t worry, it’s less creepy than it sounds.)
You can set up queries in tools like Mention, Hootsuite or RepCheckup to let you know when your name or practice name is used by someone in a public social media post. Use these queries to hear what people have to say about you, your practice, or healthcare in general.
This is great market research you can use in your overall marketing efforts.
Patients still value personal recommendations from family, friends and colleagues when finding a doctor.
The reality is that how patients go about getting these recommendations is changing. That’s one reason why medical review sites have such traction.
But prospective patients also want context and they’ll go online to find it – from your own website to what people have to say about you on social media.
This is all good news for medical and healthcare practices that know how to use social media to become part of the online conversation.
And very bad news for those practices that continue to ignore this new venue for medical referrals.
Which one are you?