Social media is a great tool for networking and bringing people together, not to mention a free and easy way to build your optometry practice. Social media entities are built primarily for communication. Sharing ideas, creating awareness, and coordinating activities are a few of the activities that a person can devote some time doing. Social media is a versatile creature of intrigue that develops into what we create, whether it be establishing a social awareness campaign, joining a cause, or finding a few friends to volunteer with. Social media has a lot to offer a philanthropic individual with just the click of a mouse.
Many optometry practices have realized the benefits of social media and have started marketing strategies to attract new customers. The marketing effort of private practice offices has begun equalizing patient exposure that was formerly attainable only with big budgets and large advertising departments. No matter your stance as a practitioner, whether you are involved in corporate optometry or private practice, the benefits of social media are something everyone can use to bolster patient care and outcomes.
Creating an online presence
The real question is how optometry (or any business) can implement the structure of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In while not leaving out some of the newer boulevards of Google Plus and Pinterest. Not every practice needs to make a Pinterest business page, and not all practitioners need to revive their dead MySpace profiles to be successful. Practitioners should develop an online presence of their own because patients write online reviews all the time.
Web sites like Yelp may warrant a visit from busy practitioners because patients are constantly leaving reviews about their healthcare experiences, both good and bad. No matter how busy your schedule, it would be wise to take a moment and peruse the Internet to see what has been written about your service as a healthcare provider. The challenge has already begun, and practitioners must defend their own reputation from the scrutiny of patient perception. Whether or not a review is fair is mostly irrelevant. Business consumers reading reviews are rarely given additional information from review Web sites before reaching final decisions. Review sources, such as Angie’s List, strive to dig deeper when looking for a doctor online. Angie’s List claims its evaluations are better than free review sites for 4 basic principles:1
• No anonymous reviews
• Certified data collection process
• Complaint resolution team
• Company/providers respond to reports
Remember, when responding to reviews, be courteous and honest, but keep it short. The last thing most patients want to read is an extended story. Defend yourself and be done with it, and when appropriate offer the patient an opportunity for you to make things right. Though the customer is not always right, he should feel you are interested in him; listening and trying to offer the best service possible can go a long way to improving customer satisfaction.
The ability to navigate review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List is an important venture worthwhile to help ensure quality customer service online. If a practitioner doesn’t have time or want to worry about this aspect of the practice, it can easily be delegated to an office manager or an office assistant better suited for the job. While it is not all about marketing, developing a presence online can help ensure your customers know they are getting exceptional service that will be consistent with the growth of your practice. The better you become at responding to customer comments, the more efficient you will be at keeping the referrals from online review sites. It has been said by many practitioners today that the best way to grow a practice is by word of mouth, so remember that a review site is the Internet’s version of what people have done for years.
Coordinating activities is another activity that can keep patients involved with a practice. Whether it is letting the patients choose the color of your next office paint job or a few pieces of art to add to the office, a Pinterest business account can add atmosphere to an office. Patient involvement in an office gives them ownership of the practice. Patients feel more welcome and comfortable in a place that they helped create. A sense of accomplishment creates the opportunity to build relationships of trust and commitment.
In the past, optometrists wrote feature stories in the newspaper or shared a newsletter. Today, optometrists need to be on the Web sharing ideas and conversing with their population base. Publishing articles (online) is still an excellent way for an optometrist to become an established expert practitioner. Blogs are another wonderful way to create awareness and educate patients. They help communicate information in a way that speaks volumes to patients. Just imagine the joy in sharing your passion for optometry on your blog and educating patients about disease prevention or the latest contact lens design. Staying up to date with social networking conveys knowledge of new technology and current trends in the industry. Patients appreciate the efforts of practitioners that are current on all things optometry.
Along with educating patients comes the passion for the profession. One fun way to share is Instagram, an online portal for pictures. Instead of inviting patients over for a slide show of your most recent mission trip, consider posting a link on Facebook to Instagram. That could be just the beginning of optometrists using social media.
The future of social media and optometry extends beyond what we know today. Current research across America is moving toward video gaming platforms for solving some of the most complex problems in our society. An article by Dayton Fandray outlines the advances individuals are making with scientific gaming.2 The technology, termed “gamification,” involves video game enthusiasts working to unlock the mysteries of protein molecules that have eluded the smartest supercomputers. Gabe Zichermann, a guru of the craze states, “The world is full of idealistic people with great ideas and a vision for how things could be better.” He continues, “[Humans] have a ‘last mile’ problem of sustaining people’s engagement long enough to complete a problem.”2
Optometrists deal with this on a daily basis with almost every savvy patient equipped with an iPhone or Android device. Who is to say that patients couldn’t educate themselves about eye disease via social media? Many patients already play farming games on Facebook, run a business online, or have led a battle surge. Fandray believes “the immersive nature of the online experience…has created exciting new possibilities for engaging students in learning activities.”2 Online games for anatomy are already available for optometry students, and perhaps these could extend to help patients learn about the eyes and what doctors recommend.
The key for any changing climate is preparation. The future waits for no one and needs no invitation before it changes the way we communicate. A practitioner must be ready to embrace change, and be willing to expect success through new corridors. Optometrists should familiarize themselves with at least one form of social media and become an expert…or at least step up above an amateur level of understanding and embrace the ideas that fit their mode of practice best.
Practitioners would do well to start with one of the mainstream networks, such as Facebook, or a broad network like Google Plus and begin following a few meaningful groups and individuals that match their goals. Followers are more interested in who you are than what you sell, so share what you do and what you believe. If you are stuck, here are a couple of things recommended by one social media blogger: share other people’s links and tips, your ideas, and educational information.3 Sites like All About Vision, or Medscape are also great references that can be used to help educate patients. Whatever practitioners decide to post, it should be meaningful to patients and help improve the quality of care. With all the ways to share, it should be easy to inspire those around us to a better tomorrow. There is no time better than the present to begin a new tradition to improve patient care and outcomes with social media.ODT
1. How it works. http://www.angieslist.com/how-it-works.htm. Accessed March 1, 2013.
2. Fandray D. Gamification: Game-playing offers winning ways to solve real-world problems. Alaska Airlines Magazine. 2013 Feb:92-98. http://www.journalgraphicsdigitalpublications.com/epubs/PARADIGM%20COMMU.... Accessed May 21, 2013.
3. The Benefits of Google Plus for Business. 8 May 2012. http://marketandconvert.com/blog/social-media-marketing/the-benefits-of-.... Accessed March 1, 2013.
Note: Dr. Nicholas Gubler’s essay won this year’s American Optometric Society Dr. Harvey Yamamoto Award. Gubler recently graduated in the inaugural class at Arizona College of Optometry, Midwestern University, Glendale. Contact him at [email protected]
Does the internet degrade friendship, kinship, civic involvement, and social capital?
One of the great debates about the internet is what it is doing to the relationships that Americans have with friends, relatives, neighbors, and workmates.
On the one hand, many extol the internet’s abilities to extend our relationships — we can contact people across the ocean at the click of a mouse; we can communicate kind thoughts at two in the morning and not wake up our friends. Back in the early years of the internet, some prophets felt that the internet would create a global village, transcending the boundaries of time and space. As John Perry Barlow, a leader of the Electric Frontier Foundation wrote in 1995:
With the development of the internet…we are in the middle of the most transforming technological event since the capture of fire. I used to think that it was just the biggest thing since Gutenberg, but now I think you have to go back farther (p. 36)…. I want to be able to completely interact with the consciousness that’s trying to communicate with mine. Rapidly… [w]e are now creating a space in which the people of the planet can have that kind of communication relationship. (p. 40)
On the other hand are those who fear that the internet causes a multitude of social and psychological problems. Several psychologists have claimed to treat people with “internet addiction.” For example, in 1999, David Greenfield adapted a diagnostic tool from a gambling addiction questionnaire, substituting “internet” for gambling. This approach ignores the positive benefits of being involved with the internet: Compare a statement such as “I am gambling too much” with one such as “I am communicating on the internet too much.”
Does the time people spend online damage their social connections?
In February 2004, a reporter asked one author (Wellman) to comment on the deaths of four supposed “cyber-addicts” who spent much time online in virtual reality environments. The reporter lost interest when Wellman pointed out that other causes might be involved, that “addicts” were a low percentage of users, and that no one worries about “neighboring addicts” who chat daily in their front yards.
A more pervasive concern has been that the internet sucks people away from in-person contact, fostering alienation and real-world disconnection. For example, Texas broadcaster Jim Hightower worried that:
…while all this razzle-dazzle connects us electronically, it disconnects us from each other, having us “interfacing” more with computers and TV screens than looking in the face of our fellow human beings. (quoted in Fox, 1995, p. 12)
Similarly, when the “Homenet” study in Pittsburgh found that internet newcomers were somewhat more stressed, it was front-page news. The media paid much less attention to the follow-up report that found much of the stress does not continue as people become used to the internet.
The assumption underlying fear about what the internet is doing to relationships is that the internet seduces people into spending time online at the expense of time spent with friends and family. As a result, Americans may be sitting at their computer screens at home and not going out to talk to our neighbors across the street or visiting relatives. There are worries that relationships that exist in text — or even screen-to-screen on flickering webcams — are less satisfying than those in which people can really see, hear, smell, and touch each other.
There are four key aspects to the question of the internet’s impact on relationships.
The debate about the impact of the internet on social relations is important for four reasons:
- There is the direct question of whether relationships continue to flourish in the internet age. Are there the same kinds of ties — in both quantity and quality — that flourished in pre-internet times? Do people have more or fewer relationships? Do they have more or less contact with friends and relatives? Does the ability of the internet to connect instantly around the world mean that far-flung ties now predominate over neighborly relations? More broadly, does internet contact take away from people’s in-person contacts or add to them?
- There is the associated question of whether the internet is splitting people into two separate worlds: online and offline. Originally, both those who worshipped the internet and those who feared it thought that people’s online relationships would be so separate from their existing relationships that people’s “life on the screen,” as Sherry Turkle put it in 1995, would be different from their “real life.” Is this the case? Or is the internet now an integral part of the many ways people relate to friends, relatives, and even neighbors in real life? Can online relationships be meaningful, perhaps even as meaningful as in-person relationships?
- Do people’s relationships (on- and offline) provide usable help? In other words, do they add to what social scientists now call interpersonal social capital? Such help could take the form of giving information or emotional support, lending a cup of sugar, or providing long-term health care. It is easy enough to give information on the internet. And while it is impossible to change bedpans online, it is easy to use the internet to arrange for people to visit and help. Robert Putnam’s influential Bowling Alone (2000) provided a fair amount of evidence that American social capital declined from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. However, some scholars dispute his evidence. For example, Claude Fischer (2005) argued that the ferment of the 1960s was an unnatural high point of social involvement. Moreover, if people are not going to churches, the Lions Club, or scouting groups as much, has civic involvement died? Or, are they finding such group activity online, through chat rooms, listservs, and group email? And is the quality the same when people pray online rather than in churches (see Campbell, 2005)? In the 1990s, instead of nostalgia for the small-town community of Pleasantville, people dreamed of traveling to Cheers, the pub “where everybody knows your name.” Where do they find community now?
- To what extent is the internet associated with a transformation of American society from groups to networks? Myth has it that in the old days (à la Pleasantville), the average American had two parents, a single boss, and lived in a friendly village or neighborhood where everyone knew their names. Yet a variety of evidence suggests that many North Americans no longer are bound up in a single neighborhood, friendship, or kinship group. Rather, they maneuver in social networks. The difference is that a person’s network often consists of multiple and separate clusters. It could well be that most of a person’s friends do not know each other, and even more likely that neighbors do not know a person’s friends or relatives. Moreover, rather than neighborhood communities like Pleasantville or its urban equivalents, most of a person’s relationships are spread widely across cities, states, and even continents. And instead of a single community that provides a wide spectrum of help, it appears that most relationships are specialized, for example, with parents providing financial aid and friends providing emotional support. The internet supports both sparsely connected, far-flung networks and densely connected, local groups. The environment of one-to-one ties through email and instant messaging can transform groups into networks because the internet easily supports groups through one-to-many emails, listservs, chatrooms, blogs, and the like. Yet are such groups single all-encompassing Pleasantvilles, or is it more likely that they are just pieces of complex social networks?
Research points to the positive social networking effects of connectivity.
As these questions continue to be debated, research is showing that the internet is not destroying relationships or causing people to be anti-social. To the contrary, the internet is enabling people to maintain existing ties, often to strengthen them, and at times to forge new ties. The time that most people spend online reduces the time they spend on the relatively unsocial activities of watching TV and sleeping. Moreover, the relationships maintained through online communication only rarely are with an entirely new set of individuals who live far away. Instead, a large amount of the communication that takes place online is with the same set of friends and family who are also contacted in person and by phone. This is especially true for socially close relationships — the more close friends and family are seen in person, the more they are contacted by email.
Much of the communication that takes place online is with the same set of friends and family who are also contacted in person and by phone.
If Americans do not live in a single community group, but in fragmented networks, we need to understand this phenomenon. Do people now operate as part of tiny, simple networks or large, complex ones? Do they rarely see their friends? Are they enjoying or being overloaded by an abundance of communication? Are the new, internet-enhanced social networks providing social capital to help us get things done, to make decisions, and to help us cope?
It is to these questions about the nature of today’s social networks that we now turn.