Article Date: 5/1/2009

Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and You
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Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and You

Do social networking Web sites offer anything for your practice?

Jim Thomas

You can become sidetracked by all the hype and "real-life" success stories revolving around online social networking. Even after researching Face-Book, Myspace and Twitter, you may not have an answer to the question: "Should my practice become involved in such media?"

Social networking Web sites offer a number of advantages. Aside from saving you time, participation costs little. So, you might argue that even those initiatives that reach only a fraction of your patient base are profitable. Your message reaches your audience instantly. And if you use Twitter, you can revel in the thrill of operating on the cutting edge. Well, at least the cutting edge of 2007.

But, before you make the jump to widgets, branded groups and viral messages, I recommend you put down the iPhone (just let it go), and consider the question: How would your patients want you to communicate with them? Put another way, what value can you offer patients through Web-based social media?

Let the search begin

Practical applications, such as those that allow patients to make appointments at their convenience or remind them of appointments, provide obvious value for the computer savvy. These might even reduce the rate of missed appointments. Other applications provide patients with an e-mail or text summary of their visit. I'd recommend these before other applications in which the value isn't as clearly understood.

How Twitter saved me $$$

Though advocating a cautious approach, I'm all for electronic social networking. For example, when my 13-year-old traveled to Costa Rica with school, my wife and I wondered how we would communicate with her. We could pay for an international cell phone plan or buy a phone card. Either might require a second mortgage (i.e. the minutes a teen runs up on the phone, multiplied by international rates). And, who knew the rain forest's phone reception.

As there was ample computer access on the trip, our solution was to use Twitter. Through the site, she could provide us with regular updates, which our family could then follow. The solution was quick, easy, targeted directly to our needs, and we weren't bogged down with scores of other messages, as can be the case with e-mail. And oh yes, I probably saved a few hundred dollars.

Obviously, I'm not at the forefront of social networking. But, if your practice is, I invite you to share your knowledge with me at OM

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2009