Social media is exploding with 15.5 million adults in the UK using Twitter alone. There are lots of reasons why people like to engage with social media. It’s free, it’s instant and it gives power to the people through word-of-mouth networking. For surgeries this can mean harnessing the power of your patients to get the word out about your surgery and share key messages.
Twitter is a particularly handy tool for surgeries. A bit like an online diary, you can use it as a public micro-blog for texting online. If you’re looking for some advice on how to set up a Twitter account there are some useful tips here: Getting your General Practice on Twitter.
If you’re already using Twitter and would like to sharpen things up a bit, or if you’re new to the concept, taking the time to think through your strategy will pay dividends.
Start by identifying what your practice wants to achieve by engaging with Twitter. You could have several objectives, such as:
- Telling your patients key information
- Reducing calls to reception
- Improving online sentiment about the practice
- Sharing public health messages with your patients
Remember that whatever your objectives are, Twitter is a two-way channel. You’ll need to engage with your Twitter audience and respond to what people are saying about the practice.
Twitter is a public forum and the practice account will need to be managed responsibly. Establish who is going to be the best person to lead your Twitter activity. You’ll need someone who is capable online – you may have members of staff who are already using Twitter and understand what it can do. Make sure you have at least two people who have access to the account so that if one leaves you have someone else who can take over (and delete the person from the account who’s just left the practice).
Plan your content
Once you know what your objectives are and have a clear idea of how you’re going to manage your Twitter account, you can start planning what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it.
With all social media it’s important to keep active so ideally you should post something every few days. Post only during surgery opening hours – if you post messages out-of-hours then patients will expect you to respond to any queries they post on Twitter out-of-hours too.
It’s not difficult to generate ideas for content – but it’s essential to keep to your objectives.
Here are some ideas for content based on the four objectives above:
- Telling your patients key information – post messages about flu clinics, when the practice is closed for training, opening hours during Christmas and New Year and new clinics and services. Use Twitter to recruit new members for your Patient Group.
- Reducing calls to reception – post regular reminders about the availability of your online appointment booking service and calling hours for test results.
- Improving online sentiment about the practice – post good news stories about the practice. Share the positive feedback you’ve received from patients and the good reviews you’ve received on your NHS Choices listing. Tell your patients about new members joining the practice team and about the fundraising efforts your staff have been involved with.
- Sharing public health messages with your patients – NHS Choices is a goldmine, with authoritative content, fabulous images and video all available for sharing with your patients. Follow the NHS Choices Twitter feed and re-tweet messages from the campaigns they are running. Tune into the NHS Choices YouTube channel and use the share buttons to post relevant videos onto your practice Twitter feed.
Language and tone
When you are posting your own messages chatty, simple language works best. Avoid jargon and be open and friendly. Generally people are largely very understanding so if issues arise be up-front and open and maintain dialogue.
If you need to deal with negative comment don’t respond immediately. Take a breath, step back and follow the simple social media procedures we outlined in our previous article Is it time your practice set up a Facebook page?
Keep them separate
If your practice uses both Facebook and Twitter, think twice before linking messages from one to the other. Patients who prefer using Twitter might be annoyed if you push them through to Facebook – and vice versa.
Don’t forget to ask your website provider to embed your Twitter feed on your website (you can do this with Facebook too). Finally, include links to your website in your Twitter messages to send patients to more information about the topics you’re tweeting about.
Author: Tim Green
Practice website expert and co-founder of GPsurgery.net, Tim Green has been helping practice managers improve their patient communications for over 10 years.