Practices Finding Social Media Can’t Stand Alone

Helen B. Combs
For six years, Alabama Allergy and Asthma Center has been posting and tweeting. “Our social media referrals have far surpassed our yellow page referrals,” says Helen Combs, practice development manager. Last year, four percent of their referrals came from their yellow page ad versus 15 percent from social media.


The primary draw to the Alabama Allergy social media sites comes from their daily air quality numbers. Alabama Allergy provides the actual pollen count versus the projected count for the Birmingham area via a grant to Birmingham Southern. “So anyone who likes us on Facebook or Twitter, or comes to our website can know if they’re going to have a good week or a bad week,” Combs says.

Mia Cowan, MD, owner and gynecologist at MiBella Wellness Center, dove into social media a little over a year ago when she started her practice. “It was free marketing and the thing to do,” she says.


Both Cowan and Combs chose to write their own tweets and posts. “I write the content and work with a digital marketing company to help determine relevant content and strategies,” Combs says. She spends about four to five hours a week on it, with some weeks being as little as one hour.


“I do everything, because I didn’t think anyone could convey my message as well as I could,” Cowan says. “Eventually I won’t be doing it as much, but I’ll still always have to have a say, because it can help you or it can kill you.”


Cowan, whose practice has over 600 Facebook fans, learned how sensitive social media followers can be when she posted about a form of birth control that would last five years. One follower openly criticized her, saying the practice was condoning sex in teens. “You have to be very sensitive in your content to who’s listening and be nonjudgmental, especially in gynecology where things might be slightly controversial,” she says.


Kirkwood by the River, a senior care facility, has implemented their Facebook and Twitter pages as an information tool versus for advertising.  “We use social media just to let people know what’s going on, to keep people up to date,” says Laura Ellison, director of marketing.


Combs says their content also includes events, like October being Eczema Month. “So we put up information about eczema. We also use it to recruit for our clinical trials and announce when our office will be closed for staff meetings or when our peanut-free night will be at the Barons.”


In her content, which she posts only a few times a week, Cowan says she learned to not use scientific language. “I quit using medical lingo. People were not responding. You have to make it more reader friendly if you want to engage people,” she says, adding that finding the right content is as simple as focusing on what generates more likes and comments.


Though MiBella Wellness Center has not kept statistics, Cowan knows she’s gained new patients from her social media outreach. “I would say it works, because I’m surprised at the new patients that say they saw one of my posts or tweets on one of their friend’s streams who’s also my client.”


Combs has seen definite positive outcomes. “They’re obviously paying attention to our social media, because we’ve had 10 to 15 percent more growth over the last six years,” Combs says. “And we’ve not changed anything else we do.”


Kirkwood by the River, however, didn’t find their social media outreach very useful. They tried a variety of digital, social and print programs and campaigns. “We were surprised that most people learn about us in a print ad,” Ellison says.


As a result, 80 percent of Kirkwood’s marketing campaigns remain in print. “The ads get them interested, and the website is what sells them,” Ellison says. “Most of our clients are in their 70’s and 80’s or are their children in their 50’s, the baby boomers. They grew up with newspapers.”


Cowan agrees that social media is not the end-all of successful marketing. “It’s just one component. It works well with the other marketing you’re doing, but not well alone,” she says.


For gaining new patients, Comb still relies heavily on print. “Physician referrals account for 65 percent of our referrals,” Combs says. “To date we have not had a lot of physicians following our practice on social media. Print still plays a very important role in driving patients to us.”


But social media, she adds, has become more common in the healthcare field. “It’s become mainstream, like having an email address, you now have a Facebook page,” Combs says. She says it makes a practice appear relevant to patients, especially to the younger generation. “If we’re up on our social media, than they see it as us being up on our medicine as well.”







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