Brand Building for Service Professionals: Some Practical Tips

We recently received an inquiry from a physician regarding ways to develop and manage his online brand, and it seemed like a good time to take a look at brand building tips for online brands for professionals in general. Whether you’re a physician, an attorney, an accountant, a business consultant or any other type of service professional, your business’ brand is necessarily tied closely to your own personal brand. We wrote extensively on this topic as it relates to the legal profession in “Business Development and Marketing for Lawyers”; however, the concepts are applicable to any profession.

More and more individuals are turning online to connect with people in all different sorts of industries — healthcare is actually one of the top-most searched areas of information out there so the demand definitely exists. Social media is about being social, and it is far easier to socialize with an individual (a physician) than a healthcare institution — many of the social media sites you’ll see are for hospitals or systems, rather than individual providers (and there is good reason for that).

There are two different scenarios that service professionals may find themselves in when it comes to social media engagement with their key audiences:

  • They are in private practice and able to establish their own guidelines and policies for online interaction.
  • They are part of a larger practice (accounting agency, law firm, healthcare system, etc.) in which there may be organizational policies that they need to be aware of, and follow; in many larger organizations, professionals are not encouraged to engage on the behalf of the overall company in online conversations in any forum without oversight and direction from their communication departments.

For those who are able to freely engage online, though, here are some key considerations to be aware of:

Privacy and Relationship with Patients / Clients

Privacy is obviously a significant concern in the healthcare environment where rules and regulations like HIPAA apply. But all service professionals need to be mindful of their audiences’ privacy concerns and expectations. Because of the very sensitive nature of health-related, legal, financial and other professional discussions, your online interactions with patients and clients should be general, not specific, especially in open forums where others may be lurking. Even if a client asks you a personal question in such a forum, you should not answer the question from a personal standpoint; take the conversation offline or, depending on the nature of the inquiry, direct the patient or client to make an appointment with you.

Establish Ground Rules to Manage Expectations

It’s a good idea to establish some guidelines for your clients in terms of the interactions you will have online with them — whether through social media, via email or in other forums. For example, you might want to make it clear that you expect detailed, nuanced, complicated issues to be dealt with via an in-person consultation for which you’d be paid. Or you might want to define specific areas of expertise outside of which you will not necessarily be able to assist. Establishing this expectation up front can avoid hard feelings down the road.

Be Consistent

If you announce to your client base that you will be available to engage in discussions online, you need to be accessible and available to them in a timely manner, or you risk negatively impacting your brand. This doesn’t need to mean that you, personally, must manage these accounts, but someone should be. In larger organizations, this could very well be members of your corporate communications/marketing department. In private practices, you might consider identifying someone to help you manage these accounts either internally or through contractors/agencies that provide these services.

Watch what your Competitors are Doing

One of the great things about online communication is that it is viewable by the masses. That means you can easily see what your competition is doing online (and they can easily see you, of course), and you can learn from what seems to be working for them — and what doesn’t.

 

Like any business, a professional practice has a lot to gain from an active and well-managed social media presence. Once you start putting yourself and your brand out there in that environment, it’s crucial to closely manage the brand you develop in order to ensure that your efforts have a positive result. Need advice or assistance in managing your online presence? We can help. Strategic Communications conducts online brand audits, works with clients to develop digital marketing plans and helps manage communication creation, publication and monitoring across both traditional and digital channels.

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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