Just over a year ago, WellPoint first made headlines when it announced a joint initiative with Zagat (known for their robust restaurant reviews) to poll healthcare consumers through an online survey to assess patients’ satisfaction with their healthcare providers. Since that time, the online community of health consumers has exploded with user-generated healthcare delivery reviews and comments collected in structured surveys and unstructured social media, such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.
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Explore This IssueNovember 2009
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As the number of social networking sites and online rating forums—particularly those relating to healthcare and the personal lives of your patients—increases, so does your online exposure. Whether or not you choose to actively engage in the digital world, your digital identity is being created—but does it truly represent you?
With the growing importance of a Web presence as part of your marketing strategy (both for your practice and your personal brand), the real question is not whether you should keep tabs on your virtual identity and online reputation, but how you should do it.
What Is Your Digital Footprint?
Your online presence is also referred to as your digital footprint. Even if you do not think that you have a digital footprint, you do. Your footprint is made up of your personal, corporate, and virtual identities, which translates into many types of online data—or “clickable exhaust”— including social, informational, transactional, and engagement data. You can create your own footprints or they can be created by another person posting data directly addressing or merely mentioning you.
Why Is It Important?
Welcome to the digital society. Yes, you can now actively engage online in education, employment, entertainment, and social interaction—basically, all the key aspects of physical society. Why should your digital reputation matter any less than that of traditional society? It shouldn’t.
More and more frequently, patients are using the Internet to search for information about their physician— and why shouldn’t they? If they will spend time evaluating the numerous sites and comments prior to reserving a hotel room or a certain restaurant, then they should value their healthcare enough to spend the same time and energy evaluating a healthcare provider. Patients are also reporting in much greater rates that information they find on the Internet does influence decisions in their healthcare.
The current Web environment makes it relatively easy to find information about a physician, whether it is information about his or her education or professional affiliations, bedside manner, or even social activities. An article posted in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted the implications of Web-based search engines that “make finding personal information about physicians as simple as typing the physician’s name.”1 The article points out that “the process, of course, is anonymous on the part of the searcher, so it is almost impossible for a physician to know when a particular patient is searching for personal information.”
How Do I Find and Monitor My Digital Footprint?
In a digital world filled with social networking, wikis, MySpace and Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasting, YouTube, social bookmarking, tagging, and RSS feeds, how can you possibly find and track your digital footprint?
As a first step, simply “Google” yourself. Google in this instance is used as a verb, not a noun. You can submit a search using the Web search engine of your choice to find the mentions of your name or your practice.
Search engines are useful, but they are not the most efficient process for regularly trawling through the multitude of data on the Web. Set up alerts, watch lists, and blog library searches to keep up with more timely postings. Applications like Google Alerts, BlogPulse, Technorati, and many others were set up just for this purpose.
You may find that your search returns far more than expected due to a relatively common personal or practice name. Keep in mind that your patients may be using the same basic search terms and could misinterpret a search result with a similar name as being about you or your practice.
Taking Advantage of It
Your digital footprint should not be viewed as only dangerous. Taking a proactive approach to monitoring and addressing your footprint could enhance not only your virtual reputation, but also your business. Proactively monitoring your footprint can make it easier for you to really understand your business and how it functions from the point of view of your patients and employees.
There are a few steps that you can take to enhance your virtual reputation, beginning with an evaluation of what you find in your searches. If you find information that is clearly wrong or inappropriate, try to contact the user who posted the comment or the Web site administrator and ask to have the comment removed.
Conducting a search can also provide you valuable information on who is talking about you and your practice, as well as how wide their reach is, giving you an opportunity to contact users and provide accurate information. Although it may not be flattering, if what they are saying is accurate, you can now take this new information and use it to improve your practice and your performance.
You may find that these searches provide information on your internal practice environment as well. It is very likely that many of your employees subscribe to (and are active participants in) social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In this virtual world, transparency reigns and all too often these digital citizens post very personal comments relating to thoughts on their work environment and work relationships. These posts could give you a glimpse into the inner workings of your organization and the real culture, which greatly affects productivity and customer service. This is something that typically is not revealed in an annual review.
Manage Your Digital Footprint
Your virtual identity and that of your practice can provide great opportunities for social marketing as part of your Internet marketing strategies, but only if you make digital reputation management a regular activity. As you review the information available in cyberspace, be sure to take stock of what personal and professional information is in the public domain. What do you say about yourself? What do your connections say about you?
Take the time to create an online personal brand. Activate privacy settings if you belong to social networking sites or post a blog. Try to stack the deck in your favor by posting information about yourself and your practice on reputable business Web sites, and take the time to share your insights by posting useful information and advice on medical forums centered on clinical subject matter as well as on patient sites.
If you would like more information about monitoring and maintaining your digital footprint, contact Itara Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.