Social media sites, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, get billions of daily users from all over the world. With such a crush of visitors, it’s no wonder that these online destinations are go-to places for patients seeking health-related information. As a physician, you’re in a unique position to build a social media following by leveraging your expertise and providing much-needed medical information. With a large enough following, you can not only educate the public, but support and advocate for policies that you believe in as well as increase your reputation and standing, leading to additional opportunities to advance your professional career.

A recent article on Influencer Marketing Hub lists seven steps to becoming a social media influencer:

  1. Select your niche—Successful influencers have interest and expertise in a particular niche. Physicians have a leg up in this area because few individuals have this type of professional background to leverage.
  2. Optimize your social media profiles—Most influencers are popular on only one or two social media platforms, so target the ones that you’re most comfortable with and optimize them for professional, rather than personal, use.
  3. Understand your audience—When you know your audience, you can better target your content to their needs and interests. Leverage the analytical tools built into various social media platforms to gain the insight you need.
  4. Create and post relevant content—The more you can engage with your audience, the more they will be influenced by your opinions and recommendations and want to let others know that they’re missing out by not following you.
  5. Be regular and consistent—Establish and stick to a schedule that you’re comfortable with and that also aligns with what works best on a particular platform. Consistency is one of the keys to sustaining long-term interest from a growing audience.
  6. Engage with your audience—Replying to and liking comments is an easy way to show your audience that you care. You don’t have to do it for every comment but selecting and responding to a small selection on a regular basis can make your audience feel heard.
  7. Let brands know you’re open to collaborations—As you build a name for yourself you can start to network with other individuals and brands in your specialty. If these collaborations fall outside the domain of professional or other conflicts of interest, this can be a great way to expand your reach.

Several common social media challenges to avoid are listed in an article for American Academy of Family Physicians, “Social Media for Doctors: Taking Professional and Patient Engagement to the Next Level,” including:

  • Follow institutional policies—Always know your employer’s social media policies before posting online and what types of disclaimers or disclosures you may need to make.
  • Be professional—Be personable, but professional. As a physician, it’s always important to represent your profession well in both how you interact with others and what type of information you provide.
  • Refrain from offering medical advice to individuals on social media—Offer general tips and advice rather than personalized recommendations. Encourage your followers to similarly maintain their privacy when it comes to specific medical concerns.
  • Be careful when posting about patients—When you post something on social media, or anywhere on the internet, expect it to be available online forever, even if the original source is deleted. Always think before posting information that may be tied back to an individual.
  • Protect against misinformation—You have a professional responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the health-related content you create or share.
  • Limit screen time—Building an online brand can require a significant time investment. Make sure you keep a healthy balance between your professional and personal pursuits.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest—Physicians who accept payment for their content should consider if the content is consistent with current standards of care and evidence-based medicine. Further, like any social media influencer who gets paid to mention a product or endorse an idea, the relationship must be revealed.

Becoming a social media influencer requires some work but can prove extremely rewarding knowing that you can both make a difference in a large number of people’s lives while simultaneously advancing your own career. As long as you treat social media with the same care and devotion that you apply to your medical practice, the potential rewards can be limitless.