Welcome to the first “Social Media Specialist” column. My aim is to discuss online strategies and social media platforms relevant to retina specialists. Each column will review key aspects of the changing online media landscape and how you can successfully navigate its contemptuous currents and incorporate them into practice building and online reputation management. This column is not meant to be dogmatic: These are my considerations for online media specifically for physicians.

As any of you who have talked about these topics with me know, I appreciate the opportunity to delve into new territories, and social media is one of these novel terrains. Although the medical, ophthalmic and vitreoretinal spaces can be more conservative in these regards, we are now beyond a tipping point where social media is pervasive and of priority.

Branding can unlock full potential
Let’s start with the basis for all online presence and social media awareness: brand. Social media is primarily a reflection of branding. For ophthalmologists and retina specialists, branding is the key to unlock the full potential of social media.

What is a brand? Simply defined, it’s an “identifying mark”. With origins in the branding of livestock, a brand signifies a specific, non-generic mark. In livestock it was used to attribute specific ownership, but in our context we can think of a brand as a non-generic “brand name” similar to the proprietary name of a branded drug. At the very least, when we extend the definition of brand to this point, we can use it to imply some description of the source or qualities of a product or service.

Transforming brand into our space
Next, we transform this straightforward definition of brand into the medical and vitreoretinal space. In this regard, I have come to define a brand as the intangible sum of a service or product’s attributes. As a retina specialist, you deliver care.

Your brand needs to create a specific perception about the qualities of this non-generic service or product. Remember, your practice is specific to you and your partners.

Why branding is essential
This is essential because there is no successful path to physician or practice visibility via social media without brand definition and awareness. The brand is the basis of the relationship formed between patient, client or consumer and the product or service (i.e., health care) consumed. You and your practice need to have a defined brand.

Your practice’s brand informs everything you do. From the training of staff to organizational culture to emphasis on preferred practice protocols, everything must be aligned with your branding message. If you don’t have a brand, then you need to assess and reflect on what is most important to you and your practice.

Using brand as promotional tool

Luckily, in most medical contexts, delivering the best possible care and working toward the most favorable patient outcomes is common ground you can draw on in defining your brand. If you get nothing else from this first column but to crystalize the brand you value for yourself and your practice, this will pay multiple dividends.

From this discussion on brand, we can now move on to other aspects of online media presence and how you can maneuver in this space to promote a physician or practice. In my next column, I’ll review the major social-media platforms and online physician ratings sites.  RS