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Today's blog post comes from marketing whiz Alex Scioli. She's the director of community at Therapydia, an online community dedicated to physical therapy. Thanks, Alex!

social pulseSocial media and branding are topics we here at Therapydia are deeply passionate about. So, when WebPT asked us to contribute a post on the topic, we were excited. Whether you’re looking to promote yourself, your practice, or the physical therapy profession in general, there has never been a better time to make your mark online. As more states gain direct access and consumers increasingly transition to social media and mobile health technology, more and more people are going online to find healthcare information.

Consider this:

  • There are currently 108 million Yelp users with 42 million user-generated reviews. (Source: Yelp)
  • 1.7 billion people will download health apps by 2017. (Source: research2gudieance)
  • 77% of patients used search prior to booking appointments. (Source: Google)
  • 85% of consumers find local businesses online, and 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. (Source: Search Engine Land)

However, only 26% of all hospitals in the US participate in social media (DC Interactive Group), and the Content Marketing Institute declared healthcare content marketing two years behind. With high demand and low competition, rehab therapists have a unique opportunity to stand out online. And it’s much easier than you’d imagine. Here are some tips:

Start With Your Word

Before I get into things here, I’m going to ask for your participation in an experiment. Below I’ve listed five famous people. For each, note the first association that comes to your mind.

  1. Bono
  2. Martha Stewart
  3. Stephen Hawking
  4. Richard Branson
  5. John McEnroe

Now this wasn’t exactly scientific, but you probably came up with something like:

  1. Rock star/humanitarian
  2. Domesticity
  3. Genius
  4. Entrepreneur
  5. Angry

It probably didn’t take you very long to think of these, and that’s the point.

While the people I listed do wildly different things for a living, they’ve all built prolific reputations within their fields. (I added Mr. McEnroe to illustrate that you must be careful or people can remember you for something other than what you intended.) Recently, the term “thought leader” has become very popular online, perhaps pushing the term dangerously close to having the stigma of a buzzword. Call it what you will, but it’s an important concept, and we shouldn’t cast it aside as fluff.

In his fantastic book Damn Good Advice (for People with Talent!), advertiser George Lois (often called the original Mad Man) shares his first commandment for successful advertising: start with the word. This is not just damn good advice for advertisers, but damn good advice for you as well. One of the most important aspects of your online branding strategy is to be seen as an expert. Do you specialize in shoulder rehab? Craniosacral therapy? Running a cash-based clinic? Active Release Technique? Whatever your niche is, your online persona should show it off. The easiest way to start communicating your thought leadership is by blogging. And because you would be writing about your topic of expertise, it should be fairly simple to generate great posts.

Know Where You Stand

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to online branding. When other rehab therapists, patients, physicians, and potential employers search for you online, what do they find? Because the Internet is so dynamic, it’s vital to know where you stand and continually monitor and improve your online presence. This is why we created our Social Pulse Score. Social Pulse is an easy way to better understand how the online world sees you—the higher your score, the stronger your online visibility and online brand. To calculate this measure, we take into account three important factors:

Google Search Results

Go ahead and Google yourself; I’ll wait. Try some queries like "your name + physical therapist + your location" or "your practice name + your location.”

How were your results? If someone searches for you or your service online and they can’t easily find anything, they’ll stop looking (or find someone else). It’s as simple as that. If you have a common name, the search engine optimization (SEO) battle is slightly harder, but you can make sure you are covering all of your bases within your field or specialty. Claim your name or practice name on all big directories, like Yelp, Google+, and Yahoo Local. Services like GetListed.org can help you do this, and they’ll also make sure all your listings have consistent information.

It is important for anyone, particularly healthcare professionals, to have both an offensive and defensive SEO strategy. Set up Google Alerts for your name to keep an eye on who is mentioning you online. Use properties you control—such as your website and blog—to backlink and help boost positive links about you, like published articles and case studies.

Images and Videos

Two other pieces of low-hanging SEO fruit are images and video. The keys to surfacing the images of you that you want to show up in Google searches are making sure:

  1. the image is titled correctly,
  2. your name is close to the photo on the page it lives on, and
  3. your name is in the image’s alt tag

Finally, we all know that video content indexes highly in searches and is rapidly consumed. Google reports that YouTube traffic to hospital sites has increased 119% year to year. It has never been easier to capture a quick video and immediately upload it to YouTube. Make sure your video tags and descriptions include your name and other relevant information.

Engage on Social Media

It used to be that you could set up your website with the proper links, tags, and content and be done. Unlike Ron Popeil’s rotisserie chicken, you can’t take a “set it and forget it” approach to your online brand anymore. Google is looking for dynamic, authentic content (e.g., social media). In fact, a new study from SearchMetrics confirms just how influential social media activity—particularly Facebook and Twitter—is on search engine results pages (SERP).

I like to call social media the great equalizer. You don’t have to be a pop star to be influential online. Instead, social media allows everyone to drive action and have some degree of influence. While you can't control everything that's written about you online, generating social media content allows you to create a positive online presence whether you are an employed PT or a practice owner. While it can be overwhelming to keep track of the growing number of social networks springing up every day, don’t fret. It’s much better to do a few well than to spread yourself too thin. Simply start by establishing yourself on one or two major sites, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

Participate in the Community

There is no better way to position yourself as an authority in your field than participating in specialized online communities. Online communities allow you to gain knowledge, share information, and problem-solve like never before. Just remember, no one likes to talk to the friend who never lets them get a word in, so take time to engage with others online rather than just blasting out your own content. Join a “tweetup,” answer questions in a Q&A forum, or contribute a blog post. Keep an eye on likes, shares, and comments to see how well you are communicating, collaborating, and disseminating information.

It’s an exciting time online in the healthcare world for rehab therapists. So make sure you’re joining in and that, more importantly, your audience can find you!

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