Social media in the ‘new normal’

person using social mediaWith the pandemic changing the way we use social media, Sarah Bradbury discusses how we should approach using it in the ‘new normal’.

In a world where social distancing, PPE and the worry of a ‘second wave’ of infections have become the new normal, social media will need to rise to the challenge. It is becoming an even more valuable channel of communication for keeping in contact with patients and peers.

Internet and social media usage in the global pandemic

The Office of National Statistics states that in 2019, 99% of UK adults between the ages of 16 and 44 used the internet regularly. With 87% using it, including social media, every or nearly every day.

The current global pandemic with its enforced lockdowns has forced millions of us to go online to socially interact. With a huge increase in the use of video communications, for both professional and personal reasons.

The number of internet and social media users around the world has increased by more than 300 million over the past year. Social media users are up by more than 8% globally since April last year, reaching 3.81 billion today. Globally, the use of social media is expected to exceed 50% by the end of 2020.

Online video platform Zoom, for example, has had 200 million daily active users this spring. Twenty times more than pre-pandemic levels. While Facebook has experienced a 70% increase in video calls through its own apps.

As a result, there’s a real likelihood that many social media habits people form over recent months will outlast the pandemic. They may become a more day-to-day part of our lives, and not just while we have to social distance.

As such, this may give your practice team a new and more readily used route into your local community. Using live platforms on Instagram for example, or entertainment channels like Tiktok, can bring generations of people together.

Using video allows you into people’s homes, giving live messages so it’s important to make sure your message matters to them.

Nextdoor is another app that has seen an uplift in usage. It provides a platform for local people to support each other and could facilitate closer working with your local community.

Rules and guidance

The GDC has professional standards for your social media use. Section 4.2.3 of Standards for the Dental Team states: ‘You must not post any information or comments about patients on social networking or blogging sites. If you use professional social media to discuss anonymised cases for the purpose of discussing best practice, you must be careful the patient or patients cannot be identified.’

The GDC provides many warnings about online behaviour. How patients and other professionals perceive it and how careful you have to be to not cause offence. This is particularly relevant during such a sensitive and stressful time. So as not to lose trust from patients or degrade your profession.

Dentolegal aspects of social media

If you follow the GDC’s guidance, professional standards and general courtesies, you shouldn’t come up against anything too negative in the world of social media. Experiencing negative comments from peers or patients could cause a great deal of upset.

The GDC also advises dental professionals to be careful with personal and professional profiles. Whether it’s advertising claims such as describing yourself as a specialist when you aren’t on the register, not including your GDC number or qualifications.

Dentists also need to bear in mind advertising standards through the ASA and CAP, along with GDPR. Many regulators, however, offer guidance on what they consider appropriate. From the more traditional ‘paid-for’ ads to advertorials and affiliate marketing.

Professional indemnity organisations are there to offer advice and courses designed to help dental professionals use social media ethically and effectively. Between 2013 and 2018, NHS England disciplined a total of 1,200 staff for inappropriate use of social media. Knowing the rules is key to your avoidance of a similar situation.

Social media in dentistry

Dabbling in social media in an ad hoc way is frustrating and might not deliver the results you want. But as part of your business and marketing strategy it is extremely beneficial in raising your personal and practice profile. It can showcase the expertise of both you and your team.

However, you do need to have dedicated internal or external expertise so that you can create continuity and consistency by engaging with social media regularly as well as monitoring the content. Not overdoing it with hourly posts of course but rather daily or a few times a week, depending on what it is you are doing.

There are three main areas where social media is a useful communications tool; patient engagement, peer communications and customer service.

Patient engagement

This is for patient recruitment, retention and recommendation. As well as generally increasing awareness of the practice. There are the more familiar platforms, for example Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But it’s worth asking your patients which form of social media they use in your patient surveys.

You can join in with conversations about national or local dental campaigns such as National Smile Month, World Oral Health Day and Mouth Cancer Action Month. Or national health topics such as Stoptober and Dry January. You could even set up your own in your local community such as promoting donations of oral health products to the homeless.

Practices can advertise promotions and campaigns and encourage new patients to register. But it’s important not to be too heavy in selling. Instead, give people a reason to follow. Provide oral health guidance, personal or practice news, and the care and treatments you provide. Focus on the benefits of the treatments, don’t just list them.

Instagram is useful for case studies. It can show before and after photos of treatment plans (obviously only if you have permission to use them) and live and recent video testimonials.

Practice and individual Facebook accounts can post details of the practice team and share what’s going on at the practice. You can also join or follow local community groups or those interested in their oral health. Altogether these paint a picture of a personal approach and being an integral part of the local community. It creates a more human face to dental professionals. Especially at the moment with everyone looking less human in full PPE.

Whichever channel you choose, you should encourage feedback and reviews from patients. Recommendations are still the biggest areas of growth for dental practices.

Review the posts or shares that your patients like, or target new patients. Share more of the content they like rather than ones that don’t get much interest. But again, be careful to monitor for anything negative or potentially damaging.

An online feed can also offer real-time updates for a practice. Such as a free slot because of a cancellation. Another benefit is the option of booking appointments online through an app or on Facebook. All of this supports the ‘new normal’ in which we are living. But also provides engagement.

Peer communications

Professional networks and platforms like Linkedin are great for giving or receiving referrals, being part of professional groups discussing products and techniques, or reading relevant articles. There are also private dental groups and forums on Facebook.

Whatever your views, it is important to be positive in your transactions with peers; you don’t want to degrade the profession with negative or shaming comments. Some people aren’t quite as professional and can be negative. They might make comments that have an impact on your confidence or how you feel. It is important to step back and not feel bullied, as well as having an awareness of unsubstantiated news and information.

Customer service

Google and internet reviews, whether they are positive or negative, can both be useful and should be followed up by contacting the individual and finding out more information behind their comment. Especially if they are unhappy. Spam messages and posts can also cause issues. This is another reason to keep a regular eye on your social media channels so you can remove any inappropriate content.

However you get through this period of change, while the world gets back on its feet, it will certainly be helped by everyone working together. This will ensure that we continue to communicate and support each other. Whether on or off line.

The views expressed in this article are for information only and of the contributors only. Dentists’ Provident, the authors and copyright owners are not responsible for any reliance you place on the information contained above or for any published errors. Dentists’ Provident does not always exercise editorial control over material produced or reproduced in third-party publications and/or websites and no responsibility is assumed for such material.

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