Online Reputation Management (Part 3 of 3)

This is part 3 of a 3 post series addressing physician online reputation management. While we have seen a continued increase of online activity in the healthcare space over the past few years, I don’t think we are even scratching the surface of what’s to come. Aside from consumer driven trends on the web, cloud computing is having a dramatic impact on the business enterprise environment and healthcare is next. All this points in one direction for doctors….your online reputation may become as or more important than your offline reputation. It stands to reason that physicians in elective fields probably have a bit more at stake, but one’s online reputation can have a myriad of career implications for all.

More important? Yes…the reach of the web is far greater than word of mouth.

Don’t mistake my comments to mean I advocate physicians need get absorbed in web hype…and there is plenty. Rather, pay pro-active attention to your online reputation and the building thereof. Despite even the most judicious oversight however, getting a “ding” is easier than ever. While most sites will correct factual mistakes it’s not always simple or quick. Also, negative reviews by patients are not likely going to get removed unless they cross some boundary the site in question deems inappropriate. In those cases, the only recourse is to develop enough positive press to effectively bury the negative press. There is nothing wrong with asking pleased patients to write a little review for you. A steady stream of positive comments puts you far ahead of the game.

To help with the reactive side of reputation management, here are a few items to review and bear in mind:

AMEDNEWS: Negative online reviews leave doctors with little recourse

Another quality article was published in the Journal of Orthopedics in August 2009 entitled: Word of Mouth in the Digital Age: Online Ratings The article makes note of some of the primary sites for physicians to keep an eye on: Healthgrades, Vitals, Angie’s List and Yelp.

Additional physician rating sites are popping up all the time, so some diligence is required. (see ZocDoc, UComparehealthcare, Avvo, Bookofdoctors, Citysearch and RateMDs)

The 5 Key Steps for (Physician) Online Reputation Management (Part 2 of 3)

In part 1 of this 3 part blog post series I covered the question of Why a Physician Needs to Pay Attention to Online Reputation Management (ORM). Once a provider realizes the increasing importance of building and managing their online reputation, they need some practical tools and steps. Bear in mind, I am writing this, not for the small percentage of physicians already active with social media, but rather for those of you giving it consideration and looking for some practical advice.

Common techniques for managing one’s online reputation includes:

1.     Creation of new content – involvement in social media (blogs, Medscape Connect, iMedExchange, Sermo, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Flikr, Picassa)

2.     Promotion of existing positive content

3.     Building social profiles (Google Profiles, iMedExchange, LinkedIn, ZocDoc, Doximity etc.)

More difficult, but nonetheless relevant techniques can include formal take-down requests to try and have negative content removed where possible. I will cover these steps in part 3 of this series.

There is a commonly accepted metric for activity within social networking communities that suggests only 1% of participants create original content, 9% respond and engage around that content and 90% lurk. Indeed there is nothing wrong with lurking, observing, learning etc. However, in so far as building and managing your reputation, you have to contribute to make an impact. Think of this as similar to attending a conference….most folks sit in the audience and listen to speakers. In between talks they may discuss the talk or approach the speaker directly. The value they receive from the information gleaned at the conference allows them to be a better provider. The social media world is very similar. Know your audience. You do not have to be a contributor or active participant on every site or in every “Tweetchat” to build a reputation with your intended audience. There are more echo chambers in social media created by small groups chatting back and forth adding marginal value to anyone and certainly not building credibility within circles that matter to most participants personally or professionally.

Consider websites, online community platforms etc as additional tools in your professional toolbox. Some require a regular commitment of usage and others are more periodic. If you ask 10 people which tools you should use you will likely get 10 different answers. Below are my suggestions based on first-hand interaction with hundreds of physicians across the country from all specialties and practice types.

I will discuss specific tools beyond the few mentioned here in future posts. For now, I present

The 5 Key Steps for Online Reputation Management:

1. Goals

Set simple goals to start (know the audience you care about). Part of that goal should be figuring out how to best represent yourself. What is your “brand?” In other words, what are the things and/or subject matters you care most about. In all likelihood those are a strong indication of how you want to represent yourself.

Sample starting points:

A)   I want to build my online reputation with fellow specialists because I want to be considered a thought leader and be asked to speak at conferences and contribute to journals.

B)   As a GP I want to maintain my role as an influencer within my community.

2. Profiles

(Google Profile and possibly LinkedIn) – This is a category that will undergo significant change for physicians over the next 6 months. I bifurcate profiles that are designed for physician facing audiences (private, secure) from those that are public or patient facing (get indexed by search engines and render results in Google, Bing etc.). To date, the sites that generate even a modicum of physician traffic (almost exclusively private, professionally focused sites) operate with screen names and as a result are useless for reputation management.

You can create a simple Google profile (obviously this is a public facing profile) with very little effort and stake your initial online territory. The profile is the starting point for all references to you, so think of it a little like your online CV… only consider making it a little more personable. I provide a qualified listing of LinkedIn because the tool is not really designed for physicians and doesn’t provide much value to physicians unless you are also active in business oriented activities outside of your clinical work. There are a lot of other tools that provide profiles, but at this point the value provided in exchange for maintaining a profile in most of these places is negligible.

3. Blogs

(WordPress, Posterous or Tumblr) – A blog is effectively the new personal web site. Tools like Posterous and Tumblr are incredibly easy to set up and manage. You don’t have to create a lot of original content, especially if you don’t have the time. If original content is not in the cards at this juncture, simply post information you come across that you think would be useful for your audience. Take it one step further and wrap a few personal thoughts around the content to explain why you think its valuable. Going back to your goals/intended audience, this content may be patient oriented or oriented to your areas of expertise and intended for colleagues in your field.

Note: don’t waste your time or money on a “personal web site” at this juncture. They cost money to have created and to maintain and they are stagnant = dead. A good blog is a better start.

4. Twitter

(Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Twitbird) I almost hesitate to list Twitter because the signal to noise ratio can be exhausting. That said, with a few basics under your belt, you can make use of this tool and expand your listening and outreach. I will be providing tips for Twitter usage in a work currently in progress. Suffice it to say, the tool is very different depending on the intended use. Create an account (profile) and begin to follow content contributors you respect. Think of Twitter less as a communication platform than a learning platform. There are exceptions to that rule of thumb, but your best use of Twitter for now will be to do a lot more listening than talking. (Note: if you want to see an example of a lively “Tweetchat”, search the hashtag “#hcsm” on a Sunday night at 9PM EST, have a nice glass of wine at the ready, sit back and watch the conversation flow.)

5. Facebook

Avoid it as a professional tool! I don’t mean avoid it altogether. This is THE 800 lb guerilla of platforms for personal interactions and connections. There are some well suited professional uses for Facebook that include hospital outreach to patients, groups created around health oriented causes and so forth. However, there is no merit that outweighs the potential issues associated with using Facebook for professional connections. This includes creating a Facebook Fan Page for your practice. The number of “Fans” signed up for your practice Facebook page is worth less than the 6 month-old copy of Sports Illustrated in your waiting room. Again, there are always exceptions to the rule, but you should have a really compelling reason to think you are among the exceptions and not the rule.

Yes, there is a lot more out there in the land of social media. Small steps. Get comfortable with these few. They are the biggies and will give you the most bang for the buck (buck = time) for now.

Online Reputation Management for Physicians (Part 1 of 3)

In this particular post I am going to explain a bit about why physicians should care about online reputation management (ORM). In two follow-on posts I’ll share high level guidance on the proactive management of one’s reputation and deal with the repair or reactive options when misinformation or mistakes need to be corrected.

As the online world becomes more pervasive, reputations are increasingly built and managed on the Internet. Online Reputation Management is the process of monitoring, addressing or mitigating SERPs (search engine result pages) or mentions in online and social media.

Physicians are as visible as anyone on the Internet and the visibility is only going to increase.  Historically a physician understood he/she was a leadership figure in the community. A certain expectation and responsibility is inherent in the role. While physicians aren’t expected to be super-human, they are role models, like it or not. With the proliferation of information on the Internet, driven heavily by blogs and more recently “social media”, a physician’s reputation can get enhanced and/or dinged in a nano-second.

Several weeks ago I spoke with a group of physicians in Oregon. In advance I did a Google search of several of those who were going to be in the meeting and took screen shots of the first page on Google. In every instance there was misinformation about the physician. In several cases the mistakes were significant. In that same discussion, physicians described the hassles they go through trying to correct bad information on sites like Vitals, HealthGrades, Yelp etc. One operations manager for a large group in attendance shared a story that took place several months prior in which a patient wrote a scathing review of one of their doctors on Angie’s List. They didn’t think much of it until they realized the review received thousands of hits within weeks. That’s a reputation management problem!

More and more patients are researching physicians online. Fellow physicians are doing the same. Unless you are on the verge of retirement, you have to pay attention. This affects primary care physicians just as much as specialists and surgeons. While employed physicians may think they are immune, not true. Not only does your institution gain or lose on the collective reputations of its physicians, but you may not always be in the same role. Ignoring your online reputation now is akin to college kids posting pictures of themselves involved in all kinds of bungholery on Facebook, thinking that the professional world is far off in the distance. It’s your professional reputation. You worked hard to get where you are and you owe it to yourself to manage and protect it.

Before discussing tools and techniques for managing one’s reputation, I want to make sure we have a common understanding of reputation and who might care and why.

To keep things simple, let’s focus on just two primary constituents that matter when it comes to a physician’s reputation: colleagues and patients. In each case they care about different things, with one major area of overlap loosely categorized as competency. At the end of the day, colleagues want to associate with competent peers and collaborate in the treatment process with colleagues who will match their standards. Patients obviously want to be treated and healed in the most effective manner possible. This doesn’t diminish interests in ancillary issues like cost, personality fit and so one….but at the end of the day results speak loudest.

In the offline world (we use to say ‘the real world’), one’s professional reputation was built through the combination of a number of things:

  • Outcomes
  • Collaboration/Assistance
  • Word-of-mouth based on people’s experience or perception
  • Research/Publishing
  • Teaching
  • Speaking
  • Community involvement including charitable contributions
  • Extracurricular activities

Interestingly, reputations are built the same way today. The difference is the velocity at which information spreads and the distances it travels.  Outcomes are perhaps more widely known today with the ease at which data is accessed and passed along. There is a now fairlhy commoly understood truth that if a restaurant has one good customer experience they’ll tell 1 friend, but if they have a poor experience they’ll tell 10. Not only does this essentially hold true for physicians, but the 1 or the 10 are reached leaps and bounds faster than in the pre-Internet days. Additionally, the numbers go from 1 and 10 to 1,000 and 10,000 in some cases. Thought leaders are still thought leaders, only today they have a few more tools at their disposal. Their voice is magnified through the power of the web. Same holds true for collaboration, research and so forth.

To summarize, your online reputation is serious business. You owe it to yourself to pay it some attention.