Decide your purpose for using social media before diving in
Wendy SueSwanson, M.D., M.B.E., FAAP
Mastering the Media
Many pediatricians are curious about how to fit social media into a busy practice
and demanding career. They want to know how to get started and which platform to use
without it furthering demand. Many pediatricians also may be concerned about potential
pitfalls and vicious “trolls.”
Before launching a social media campaign, consider what you expect to accomplish and
how it will affect change. How will social media help you be more of the pediatrician
Social media sharing and health campaigns can be whatever you want them to be. Some
AAP members have created online personas that are regular and powerful social media
producers. They make content online, stream videos and share TV appearances. Others
use one social channel strategically for a single cause.
Ideal levels of engagement online vary. A social presence doesn’t demand making a
career of it. Rather, it can be an extension of practice — sharing best practice,
advice and experience. Advocacy comes in many forms; you can use social media daily
or less regularly with purpose. The frenetic pace of social channels doesn’t have
to dictate how you use it, either. Build it into your life where it fits.
The following tips can help those who want to get their practice or hospital involved,
or more involved personally, in social media.
Think about what you want to accomplish with social media, whether it’s to connect
with reporters, promote health messages to your patients and the public, or learn
from and connect with colleagues and other health care professionals. Perhaps your
goal is to increase your practice size by having an online presence where your community
knows you’ve got a stake in child health. Knowing what you want to accomplish will
inform your decisions.
Consider channels that you already are involved with. If you find Twitter to be too
busy or Facebook to be dull, take that into consideration. Then, choose one social
channel you prefer and try it. For example, you might begin with a blog then move
to making videos in YouTube. Or you may start on Twitter to listen and connect and
then create a Facebook page or Instagram account to share images and ideas with parents.
Listen first, then speak. Feel free to “lurk” for a while before you say anything.
Get to know a platform by following people you admire and some you don’t. This helps
you understand what you want to do and what you want to avoid.
Consider that it is valid simply to consume social media on mute. Many times, the
most valuable aspect of these communication tools is the opportunity to learn more
about what people are talking about, news and events. Using a search function also
can help you find out what parents or your community is saying.
Twitter is a challenge for a lot of doctors because of the brevity of messages, but
it’s a great place to share or help clarify articles you appreciate. For example,
you potentially can impact conversations around the world, with moderate effort and
in a short amount of time, by posting a short message and a link to new research or
a news article and copying some of your AAP colleagues. Many political issues are
controlled on Twitter, and pediatricians’ voices are powerful for legislators.
Facebook is a valuable tool to connect with families and keep a public page without
having patients or families as “friends.” One of the platform’s greatest qualities
are the comments. Therefore, be prepared to respond to comments from families looking
for more information about important health topics. Remember, it’s your Facebook page
and you can set the tone by controlling what comments stay up and which are deleted.
Learn to use search terms. For example, if you’re doing research for a white paper,
media interview or presentation for doctors, search hashtags or comments to see what
patients and parents are asking about and the issues that are most worrying families.
This live information stream is an opportunity to stay informed.
Our parents and patients are online. Joining them is a privilege and one we can do
efficiently if we’re careful. If you’re using social media well, you can connect in
real time with your patients, peers, classmates and community as well as with research,
advocacy or political campaigns around the world. Social communication tools can be
more than places to send messages. Sometimes, the most valuable thing you can do with
social networks is listen, evolving more and more into the pediatrician you are, online.
Have fun, engage with your colleagues and take your time as you develop a comfort
for a more public-facing voice.
Dr. Swanson is a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.