If you’ve never heard of “webutation”, it’s time that you get familiar with the term and its influence on how patients find you – and whether they stay with you. Your “webutation” is your reputation online, and it’s constantly evolving.
While word-of-mouth marketing still holds ground, many patients take to the World Wide Web to find their doctor just as they have been doing for restaurants, hotels and other businesses for years. Even if a friend or neighbor refers them, it’s unusual for prospective patients to not look up facts about the doctor online. With the growing popularity of review websites – from restaurants to home repair – people are growing accustomed to seeking, finding and writing online reviews. When it comes to physicians, many potential new patients want to read first-hand information from other patients about you: what they liked and didn’t like.
Patients increasingly go online to assess and compare physicians – either to make a choice or to confirm someone else’s recommendation. They want to get a feel for the physician before they meet in person.
Physicians who are not in tune with their “webutation” are at a growing disadvantage in today’s technology-driven society. Take these steps to be aware of – and manage – your online reputation.
Google yourself. Take the time to see what is being said about you online. If it takes your breath away, don’t despair. It’s well known that unhappy patients will do their best to spread the ill will they feel about a practice. Knowledge, however, is power.
Assess negative reviews. When you find reviews of your practice, read carefully to make sure they are accurate – that is, not talking about another physician. If so, contact the website hosting the ratings – they won’t do anything about negative reviews, but you may have luck getting them to remove a review containing inaccurate information. Depending on the forum, you may be able to post a response but be careful what you say. On most ratings websites, responses are likely posted for all to see so do not include any details in a response that would breech patient confidentiality. Using a defensive or condescending tone will turn off other potential patients. Ask someone else – a staff member or friend – to review your replies before they are posted. Unless it’s a clear case of incorrect facts, it’s better to just leave the negative review alone. There’s little to be gained by lashing out online, as mudslinging simply lowers you to the level of the complaining patient who posted the review. Importantly, use the opportunity to make sure the address, phone number and link to your website are accurate. Upload a picture, description, quote, or any additional information the online provider allows. Finally, do some soul searching. If patients are complaining about long wait times, this may be the push you need to make some concrete changes to your practice.
Don’t “Astroturf”. If you’re concerned with the results of your search, don’t start writing your own reviews. “Astroturfing,” as the name implies, is posting artificial reviews about yourself. It’s totally inappropriate, and you may find yourself in some legal trouble, as did some plastic surgeons involved with a company that was found to be instructing employees to create and post positive “patient” reviews about its services.
Dilute. Because patients who have negative experiences are much more likely to go online than those who are satisfied, you should try to even the playing field a bit. There’s nothing unethical about making patients aware of the opportunity to post an online review of your practice. Type up the instructions for posting reviews to Google, Yahoo!, Yelp, and Bing, for example, and give them to patients who offer a verbal compliment. Offer your sincere appreciation for the compliment and ask them to share their story online. Or, give the instructions to all patients, encouraging them to post their reviews. (It might be better for your staff to communicate the instructions if you sense patients would feel pressured by your request.) You can marshal support from established patients – and help their waiting time go a bit faster - by queuing up a computer in the reception area, or handing them a laptop with wireless Web access, with bookmarks for consumer ratings websites already set up on the Web browser. Even if it takes a bit of effort to distribute the information, remember that each positive post is free advertising.
Sign up for Google alerts. This free service from Google automatically sends you an email any time your name is mentioned online – in any context. You can also get daily or weekly digests. Although it may not catch every website and you may get a few misdirected emails – I share my name with someone who was on the reality series, Big Brother, for example – it’s worth the time to review Google alerts to know exactly what is being said about you. Your webutation is dynamic, so it pays to stay current with the information being said about you, regardless of where on the Web it is said.
Establish an online presence. Launch a Facebook business page; note that this is different from your personal page. At a minimum, this gives patients your contact information and directions, with a link back to your website. (For a good example, see urologist Dr. Neil Baum’s Facebook page.) If Facebook doesn’t float your boat, try using YouTube. Make a short video offering a virtual tour of your practice (click here for an example), or post a video describing your practice and its philosophy. Try uploading a video in which you give post-operative instructions: it’s an excellent (and free!) way to reiterate advice to patients, and a great way to dip your toe in the water of 21st century technology. (Click here for an example.) LinkedIn offers valuable professional connections, including a great forum to post jobs and attract candidates for employment; if you can dedicate the time, Twitter is a useful tool to attract and retain patient “followers”.
Develop a QR code. You may have seen these new square barcodes in magazines and on signs – a quick response (QR) code is a two-dimensional image that can be scanned by a smartphone’s camera. The viewer is transferred to a website, a display of contact information such as phone number, address or map, or details about a promotional event such as a community health fair. Developing a QR code takes seconds, and it’s free at online generators like Kaywa, Delivr and QR Stuff. Consider printing QR codes on business cards, signs and brochures to link patients to your website, or develop a series of QR codes to track how many people are using the codes in order to determine the efficacy of various marketing efforts. (Use an online generator that provides analytics and tracking. Be sure to evaluate and compare the cost of this additional feature.) It may be helpful to include brief instructions under the code telling people, “Scan me with your smartphone!” and/or where they can get scanner apps. As QR codes become mainstream, knowing how to implement and use QR codes successfully will keep your brand on the cutting edge of marketing – and technology.
If you’re anxious to manage your webutation, but don’t want to do it yourself, there are vendors that specialize in this function. Look for one that focuses on health care, as your profession is unique. Search for a vendor that can deliver search engine optimization; track and report reviews; and aggregate and funnel incoming reviews to third-party sites. Avoid vendors that promise too-good-to-be true results or ask to be paid per positive review because they may be engaging in “Astroturfing” (see above).
Simply knowing your online reputation is the first step. That understanding opens the door to taking control of it and using the available opportunities to grow your practice’s “webutation” into one that you can be proud of.