Should Doctors Blog?Tim Hamby
Deciding whether to blog or not is a big decision for any business. But choosing to do so can pay big dividends for your web traffic and brand.
Should Doctors, Dentists, healthcare specialists or other medical practitioners blog? And if so, why? It’s an excellent question that depends on both your individual personality and motivation(s). Certainly, Google, Bing, Yahoo and professional marketers like myself would answer resoundingly, “Yes” if your goals included increasing online visibility for your practice, driving new business or strengthening your personal brand. These are all well-established benefits of blogging and inbound marketing.
But, are these reasons enough? Is there value beyond marketing? And what about the pitfalls of blogging? Again, all great questions.
Let’s get #1 out of the way.
Yes, marketing is reason enough. I believe that most people understand and appreciate the ethos of the practice of medicine. At the same time, it has been 32 years since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Federal Trade Commission in determining that the prohibition on advertising contained within the AMA’s Code of Ethics was an unlawful restriction on competition.
In this day and age, no one expects Doctors or healthcare professionals to refrain from marketing their businesses. Rather, most consumers want to be armed with information and made aware of our options. In fact, I’ll go a step further and state that most consumers today insist upon it, to the point that it becomes a medical professional’s responsibility to provide it. When it comes to marketing, advertising and promotion, all we really expect of healthcare professionals are the same things we desire of all marketers (but unfortunately, do not always get): That they would be truthful, not deceptive or misleading. That they would not discriminate against us, respect our privacy and satisfy our needs.
Indeed, the rise of content marketing is almost entirely the result of Google’s relentless efforts to satisfy their customers needs. By “their customers”, I mean you, me and everyone else. And by “needs”, I mean the need for information. Even if you are a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist who believes in generating new business only via patient and physician referrals, I say to you that blogging is simply a modern means for accomplishing this. In fact, it is a far more passive means of marketing than traditional advertising- it is “pull” vs. “push”.
So, let’s see. What else?
Is blogging narcissistic? Well, there’s no doubt that it can be, and that this is a common motivation for many recreational bloggers. Then again, I’d sooner categorize any person who might be curious enough to try blogging (for personal or professional reasons), but who deferred due to peer pressure, as even more narcissistic than those who would dare not! Do you understand where I’m coming from?
When I see a Doctor blogging, my thoughts are not, “Wow, there’s a self-absorbed or money-hungry individual with a big ego and low integrity”. Assuming their content is of high quality, I think, “Wow, there’s an intelligent, hardworking healthcare professional who has the confidence, courage and curiosity to step outside the bounds of tradition, fear or pride that may be restricting his peers”. Then I naturally assume that these same character traits will most likely carry over into their care for me- their drive; energy; knowledge base; and ability to form independent opinions and recommendations for treatments, for whatever might ail me.
What other reasons might inspire Doctors to blog?
I love some of the ones cited by Dr. John Mandrola in his wonderful blog post, Six Reasons Why (I) Doctors Blog. Dr. Mandrola is a Kentucky-based cardiac electrophysiologist (Did I spell that right, Dr. John?), whose wife is also a Doctor (a hospice and palliative care specialist). Dr. Mandrola notes that he started his blog on a whim, but that much of it was due to his natural sense of curiosity, discovery and an insatiable desire to learn- traits that I assume are shared by many in the medical field. Dr. Mandrola highlighted the following reasons why Doctors may decide to blog:
- Because the practice of Medicine inspires- Doctors are passionate about what they do and writing allows them to share their passion.
- To educate – Deeper discussion of medical science is a win-win for all involved.
- To better mankind- To help motivate, inspire and inform as many people as one can.
- To provide a look behind the curtain. (Love this one!) Doctors are understandably busy and (often) private people. Blogging opens a door into their world.
- To archive useful information. Dr. Mandrola explains that his, “epic notes from training” used to “collect dust in a basement”. He points out that, “things like social media have transformed and expanded the usefulness of our notes”.
- “To display our humanness” – Although Doctors strive for perfection, they are indeed human. I don’t know about anyone else, but this is a comforting thought to me. Like it or not, “humanness” and a bent towards increasing transparency have become cultural hallmarks of our time.
So, I hope we can agree that blogging is at minimum, a valid way to market your personal brand and/or healthcare practice; that it is ethical; that it has the potential to help educate your patients, peers and yourself; and that it neither confirms that you are a narcissist, nor absolves you from being one, if you’ve simply opted not to try it!
But what about the practical challenges? It is undeniably time consuming, and time is a luxury. Indeed, in a discussion of marketing, time is also money. Is there good ROI in blogging?
More great questions!
Yes, blogging requires a time commitment to be successful. If you cannot commit the time to post at least 2-3 times a week, then I would not recommend that you start a blog. Skip it and issue press releases once a month for SEO value, instead. Leaving a blog unattended tacitly communicates that the information contained within it must not that important, or that it may no longer be relevant. These are some of the assumptions that Google’s search algorithms make, and no doubt the natural way that patients and other site visitors would likely interpret this, as well. While the inbound links and authority you may have previously earned from people linking to great content on your website may provide you with some lasting value over time, you will ultimately lose organic search ranking once your content gets old and you quit, “feeding the machine”.
Does this mean you should not start? No. It simply means that you should understand your goals going in. If your aims are personal, then it really doesn’t matter what kind of traffic your blog generates. You will only want to make sure that it at least represents your personal brand in manner that befits you professionally, as others will still be able to find it, online.
If you do wish to make it work as a time and ROI-managed marketing tool for your business, then I would suggest the following for maximum success:
Keep it focused – Try to keep your content focused on your specialty or practice type.
Be consistent – Set aside an hour 2-3 days to week to create content for your site. If you have a larger practice with multiple Doctors, you may wish to split up these duties and/or post more often.
If you are going to invest time in blogging, invest time in properly optimizing each post by using strategic keywords in your page title, first paragraph, headings, SEO title and description, body text, image tags and interlinks. WordPress and other similar platforms make this very easy- a 2-5 minute task.
Add social sharing icons to all posts so that people can distribute your content to their social networks
Redistribute your content in your own social media – If you’re blogging, you really should be on Facebook, Twitter and/or G+ to maximize your efforts.
Repurpose your content- This is how you can really begin to extend ROI. You’ve put time into creating some informative posts. Now, where else can you use the information? How about sharing individual beneficial snippets of information in periodic emails to patients, or in a newsletter!
Encourage others to link to your blog – Promote it everywhere you market, from your email signature to your directory listings, to your ads, to the people you meet face-to-face.
Use effective Calls-to-Action – Like any good website, consider what it is you want visitors to do after having consumed your content. If you’re simply seeking to build brand awareness and establish yourself as a trusted thought leader, you may not need to do anything else. If you wish to encourage new business, you may include an email sign-up form or a statement inviting them to make an appointment if they have additional questions.
Measure Your Results and Track ROI – Use tools like Google analytics to analyze your website traffic, and keep track of where new patients say they found you. By understanding the value of each patient who discovered you via your blog, based upon the services you will provide to them (ask them in post-visit surveys), and knowing the amount of time that you’ve put into blogging, you can begin to quantify your efforts. Remember that there will also always be overlapping value with both your website and your brand. Your blog will help increase the visibility of your website in search results, whether patients cite it as the particular reason for discovering you, or not. This, in turn, help strengthens your brand.
Tim was a Director of Social Media at Web.com. A deeply experienced integrated marketing professional, former creative director and writer who operated his own full-service marketing, branding, public relations and design firm for 15 years, Tim provides a wealth of experience in nearly every area of marketing communications encompassing both new and traditional media.