Social media is undoubtedly a phenomenon of the new millennium. 19 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg and a group of his roommates as well as other Harvard University students, launched Facebook. That one simple action changed the world. They probably had no inkling how revolutionary it would be and how it would impact both the way we communicate with friends and family as well as businesses and organisations.
It is a common belief in the post-pandemic business world that every business should have a Social Media presence. In our sector, we constantly hear that private practitioners must be active and reachable on various platforms to succeed.
For solo health and well-being practitioners who are already overwhelmed by admin, CPD sessions, in-person and online client appointments and booking calendar management, this constant message of "use Social Media or you miss out" adds to stress and overwhelm.
In this article, we look at whether social media is indeed necessary, weigh its pros and cons, discuss ethics and provide you with clear examples of how private practitioners can use it in different areas of health and well-being.
Should Private Health and Well-being practitioners use social media?
There is no clear yes or no answer to this. It is a personal choice, plain and simple.
Before using social media, private practitioners should ask themselves the following questions:
Who is my ideal client, and how can I use social media to reach them? It is essential to consider who your ideal clients are. Will they, or the decision-makers, in their lives use social media? Let's say you are a physiotherapist who deals with childhood injuries. Are you likely to speak directly to your patient on social media or to their parents/caregivers? How old is your ideal client, and which platform is their caregiver likely to use? For example, if you specialise in helping toddlers, their parents may be younger and likely to be more present on TikTok and Instagram.
Am I comfortable sharing content online, and if so, what type? Will that be interesting to my audience? Many people are uncomfortable sharing videos or photos of themselves. For them, there are better options than TikTok! Others are great at filming landscapes and would be glad to do that. As a Life Coach, you may use a landscape video as a background to give tips to your audience. Do you like to write? Consider writing articles on LinkedIn. Are these content types you believe your ideal client would like, comment on and share?
What do I really want to use social media for? This is a fundamental question. Despite what people commonly think, there are several reasons to use social media:
To market your practice: Social media platforms provide an effective and cost-efficient way to promote your services. You can potentially reach a wider audience than you would using other means. Suppose you are a practitioner who also offers online sessions. In that case, social media could allow you to gain clients from other geographies. You could be a sleep therapist in Bath helping a British expat in Rome.
For networking: social media can be a powerful tool for connecting with other professionals in the same or related fields. Perhaps you are a family counsellor looking to work more closely with a specialist in child psychology as you believe it will benefit your clients. You could do a public collaboration on social media, and the content the two of you generate could help further educate your clients.
To provide customer service: Through social media, private practitioners can communicate with their clients and potential clients in a public forum without providing personal details to respect privacy and ethical considerations. You can also provide valuable information, answer questions, and address concerns. It may save you time answering repetitive questions or clearing common misconceptions. It can be a fast and direct communication channel that quickly solves doubts.
To collect feedback and reviews: If you are interested in data and a fan of research, you could use social media as a data gathering point. Carry out polls, understand which service your clients are unhappy with, and get client opinions on issues that may help you tailor your service offerings and marketing. There are myriad ways of using social media platforms for these purposes, and they do allow analytics for business accounts. Keep in mind, however, that not all professionals within the health and well-being sector can request feedback and reviews. Counsellors, for example, are unable to do this. Life Coaches, on the other hand, can. If in doubt, consult your regulatory body's code of conduct and ethics.
To showcase your knowledge: Sometimes, a private practitioner may wish to become a reference for their speciality. They may want to share their expertise and establish themselves as a thought-leader. Social media can form part of the strategy they use to make this happen. They may choose to gather a following and network with other thought-leaders. This could result in invitations to speak at events, participate in research panels etc.
Do I have the time and resources to maintain an active and engaging social media presence? It is no secret that social media requires a time investment. Even seasoned marketers may take 1 morning per week to plan and create a week's worth of social media posts. So, ask yourself if you are ready for this. Maybe you decide that you will mostly post quotes and then invite discussion about them. This could only take 2 hours weekly. In any case, start thinking about how you could best incorporate social media time into your daily schedule. You could schedule 15 minutes in the afternoons between appointments to have a cup of tea and reply to comments.
Could I do something different outside of social media, that is easier for me, to reach the goals I want to achieve? This is a question you must consider before starting a social media channel. As mentioned above, managing an engaging social media account will take time. If you are unsure that it is the best fit for you, the additional stress may not be worth it. Instead of social media, could you guest blog on other people's blogs so the audience can get to know you? You could, as a psychotherapist, write articles in journals and magazines in your field. You may also prefer attending in-person conferences and networking there instead. Another option is using your CV and experience to look for speaking opportunities in settings that will put you in front of prospective clients. As a dietitian, could you start a podcast and market it to your current and past clients and peers?
Am I ready to keep up with changes to social media platforms, e.g., types of content, trends etc.? While you do not need to research algorithm updates daily, you will need to keep an eye out for significant changes. This means that you will need to learn the latest developments on your social platform. It would be advisable to do a quick monthly check. "What's new on Instagram in March 2023?" For example, we currently know that Facebook is moving away from long-form written content such as articles. From Mid-April, their Instant Articles functionality will no longer be available. Publishers have had almost half a year to assimilate and plan how to deal with this change. Most often, the changes tend to take place quicker, so it is important to keep up-to-date.
What about maintaining professional boundaries on social media and avoiding blurring the line between personal and professional communication?
This is a concern for many private practitioners, given the confidential fields in which they work. What can you do or not? What is seen as an infringement of someone's privacy? Could the information you are giving be misinterpreted by a potential client? Could it be considered misleading or dangerous?
These are all valid concerns, and luckily most governing bodies have information regarding this within easy reach. For example, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has a clear guideline on their website called "Guidance on using Social Media responsibly", as does the National Counselling Society on their "Code of Ethics" page.
All it takes is checking out the website of your regulatory body and asking for advice if required. Be sure to do this before engaging on social media as a private practitioner.
If, after considering every angle, you decide to build and maintain a presence on social media, where should you start? The most common question is, "Which platform should a private practitioner use?" But, again, there is no "one size fits all" answer. Every practitioner is different. So are their practices, their current and ideal clients or their motivation for using social in the first place!
Let's break this down for you in bite-size chunks!
How many social media platforms should I use?
There is no rule regarding this save: Be on the platform(s) that will better help you achieve your goals and only on the number of platforms you can realistically manage.
In other words, if you are a marriage counsellor living in a small town who wishes to promote to a broader online audience and limit local clients (for the simple reason that you may not wish to bump into grumpy couples you work with while shopping for broccoli), creating a strong social presence on Instagram may be just the thing for you.
As a midwife who wishes to educate current clients on birthing tips, both Instagram and Facebook could be a great fit. You could also consider Pinterest as it is an ideal place for various visuals, including infographics.
Suppose you are an osteopath who wishes to showcase your knowledge to the world with teenagers as ideal clients. In that case, you may use TikTok to explain different osteopathic techniques in a fun and relatable manner and also LinkedIn to frame and present your knowledge to other professionals in the field.
Ensure you factor in the resources you have to run your social media consistently. Appearing on social every day for 3 months and then disappearing for 1 month without any news is not only unadvisable but impolite. If you are taking a break, let your followers know. It is better to post only thrice a week consistently than to have intermittent bouts of daily posting and long silences.
Where is my audience?
Your ideal client may be on any platform, so you should use the information you have gathered in your practice to narrow it down. Many articles online show platform demographics that can serve as an initial guide. Start looking at those from Sprout social, Hubspot or Hootsuite to get an initial idea.
Previously, some platforms would specialise in only one or two types of content. This is no longer such a determining factor. Most social media platforms are now moving towards video content. Therefore, if your audience's favourite content is short videos, Instagram reels, Facebook reels, TikTok or Video Pins could be the best fit for you.
If you think your audience may be young males following influencers, you may try Twitter. Over 50% of their audience is between aged 11-26. Your goal may be to become a strong voice there.
Also, consider the role of your audience's geography or background. For example, a London-based mental health therapist targeting Chinese students in the UK who may be having trouble adjusting to a different culture and dealing with heavy homesickness may find them on Weibo instead of Facebook.
Which platform should I use, and what should I post?
Now we get to the juicy stuff! The question we hear over and over again. Since our audience comprises private practitioners from various fields, we will give you examples rather than a definite answer. As said above, the platform choice and everything social media related is an individual choice.
Here are some examples:
1. The Hypnotherapist Olivia posting on Instagram to reach a broader audience Instagram was first created as a photo App, but it has evolved into something much bigger. It is still a visual platform, with photos, videos and graphics taking centre stage. Videos are becoming more important, and Instagram now has 2 video formats: stories and reels. You can also continue posting photos, graphics or carousel posts (more than 1 image at a time – essentially creating a scrollable document). It is important to note that currently, reels offer the most possibility to reach new audiences. Olivia has just created her Instagram account and has decided to introduce herself by sharing a reel. This is an excellent idea as it can help her to connect with potential clients and showcase her personality and expertise as a hypnotherapist. Her well-made reel can attract attention as well as engagement, and help her build a following on Instagram. Reel example: Topic: About Me Include: Olivia introduces herself and provides some background information about her qualifications, experience, and areas of expertise. She also shares a few fun personal facts to help her viewers to get to know her. Format: Starting with a warm greeting, where she is speaking directly to the camera, Olivia explains who she is, and speaks about her qualifications, her professional background and her speciality. She finishes with a fun personal hypnotherapy fact and asks viewers curious about hypnotherapy to follow her and learn more about this discipline. Her reel lasts 60 seconds.
2. The Nutritionist Helen using Pinterest as a visual platform to share her expertise with a wider audience Pinterest is a platform that works wonderfully for seasonal posts. Since Pinterest works more as a search engine than solely as a social media community, Helen has published her post 3 months in advance to catch the summer crowd looking for help and inspiration. Her post is also linked to an article she wrote on her blog because Pinterest facilitates users to go to other web pages for more information. Helen plans to get them to subscribe to her blog full of helpful information on allergies and nutrition.
Topic: How to manage seasonal allergies through nutrition.
Include: Information on anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, as well as tips for reducing exposure to allergens. She narrows it down to the following: -Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine
-Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are natural antihistamines
- Spices like ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce allergy symptoms
Format: She creates a graphic showing natural antihistamines and how certain foods and nutrients can help reduce inflammation and ease allergy symptoms. She also makes 2 video pins about the subject and creates 3 image pins, a variety of content that all lead back to her blog article.
3. The physiotherapist Jason, using LinkedIn as a tool to expand his professional network and showcase his expertise. LinkedIn is known as a professional platform; there is a reason for that: it has brilliant tools to help people communicate in a slightly more professional setting. That does not mean it's boring! Jason aims to reach more people and has built up quite a following on LinkedIn. He uses his platform to educate them and publish articles that show his knowledge to his niche; adult patients with sport-related injuries. To reach other audiences, Jason decides to pair up with Christian, a psychologist who helps adults to recuperate after trauma-induced injuries. They reach an agreement for cross-promotion. They will share each other's posts, tag each other in relevant content and host joint webinars. Collaboration example: Topic: Mind-body connection in recovery: This webinar will focus on the mind-body connection and how it plays a role in the recovery process after trauma-induced injuries. Include: Christian the psychologist, will provide strategies for managing anxiety and depression, while Jason the physiotherapist, will demonstrate physical techniques that promote relaxation and stress reduction during recovery. Format: Although the webinar will not take place on LinkedIn, both Jason and Christian will use the platform for marketing the event, giving teasers, getting sign-ups and creating short videos to promote it.
And now...over to you!
So, there you have it, the ins and outs of the questions you should ask before opening a social media account as a private practitioner, plus three realistic examples of how private practitioners can use social media for their business.
Now it is your turn.