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Tweeting All Surgeons: Update Your Facebook Status, Enhance Your Reputation, and “Pin” Your Practice on the Wild, Wild Web

Israel, Jacqueline S. B.A.; Mandel, Benjamin A. M.D.; Bentz, Michael L. M.D.; Afifi, Ahmed M. M.D.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: May 2013 - Volume 131 - Issue 5 - p 865e–868e
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e318287a14f
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Department of Surgery, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wis.

Correspondence to Dr. Afifi, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Wisconsin–Madison, G5/361 CSC, 600 Highland Avenue, Madison, Wis. 53792,

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Businesses, professional organizations, researchers, and educators use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to achieve their respective goals (Figs. 1 and 2). In addition, patients use social media to find medical information and search for health care providers. Using Facebook as an example, we outline how the individual plastic surgeon can use social media to enhance his or her practice in an efficient and unique manner.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Step 1: The potential uses for Facebook are endless. A social media campaign developed by the University of Wisconsin’s Division of Transplantation accumulated 5000 Facebook group members in 18 months, resulting in 9000 new registrations for organ donation—a 28 percent increase in the target age group.1 A Taiwanese emergency medicine physician’s Facebook page acquired so many followers that the Taiwanese Minister of Health “vowed to spend more resources … to improve emergency room overcrowding and quality of care.”2 In March of 2012, this Journal featured an editorial emphasizing how social media allow Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to engage with plastic surgeons, nurses, and the general public on a global scale.3 Facebook has also been used to increase participant retention in longitudinal research, by nongovernmental organizations to promote disease awareness, and for information exchange by residency programs and professional societies.4–6

Step 2: Plastic surgeons should embrace social media as a form of personal branding that can establish their online identity. Facebook facilitates increased “face time” with patients, provides information about the surgeon’s breadth of services, and helps surgeons protect their reputations. In an age of consumer satisfaction and the inevitability of (at least a few) negative online reviews, “positive press” is essential.

Step 3: Use social strategies. Marketing principles used on standard informational Web sites, so-called digital strategies, are a one-way form of communication and generally are not successful on social networking sites. Piskorski studied over 60 companies in an attempt to identify successful marketing techniques, concluding that “Companies that don’t … create true social strategies will find it harder and harder to compete with those that do.”7 Although a number of companies collect many “friends,” simply amassing followers does not translate directly into profit. “Social strategies” successful on Facebook depend on an appreciation of the unique properties of social media—a medium for open and instant exchange of ideas, feelings, and beliefs between people with common interests.

Facebook works by facilitating interaction between individuals and the Facebook page. Social strategies indirectly market the surgeon’s services by creating a venue for the public to share their personal experience by means of the practice’s online platform. Take breast reconstruction as an example. A Facebook group allows this patient population to find others with whom they can relate, exchange ideas, and share personal experiences. It also allows patients who have undergone reconstruction to share their experience while remaining anonymous. Encouraging individuals to interact by means of the surgeon’s Facebook page promotes one’s practice and allows patients to interact outside of a clinical setting. Increased Web site traffic and user participation will reinforce one’s previously established patient relationships and also attract new patients.

Step 4: Get feedback about your practice from comments that patients post online. Facebook is an efficient and affordable way to understand patients’ expectations and discern how they rate their experience with their surgeon.

Step 5: Use staff members who are more adept with the Internet and better able to navigate the intricacies of social networking. Appointing a person to develop and update a Facebook page will save valuable physician time and increase employees’ sense of participation within the practice.

Step 6: Avoid pitfalls in professionalism. Recent surveys demonstrate a tendency for unprofessional online conduct by physicians, medical students, and other health care personnel.8,9 In addition to the American Medical Association’s guidelines (Fig. 3), surgeons should consider the following:

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

  • Check with institutional, departmental, or employer policies regarding social media use.
  • Use all privacy settings.
  • Privacy settings change with little notice, necessitating that users continually check that settings are up-to-date.
  • Once posted, information is retrievable forever, even if deleted by the user.
  • Site visitors may be able to identify a patient being referenced based on a post’s timing and context, even if confidential information is omitted.

Step 7: Keep it compelling and credible. The key is to create a personalized site that reflects one’s professional goals. As with any marketing endeavor, surgeons are accountable to professional organizations, state boards, and, most importantly, their patients.

The surgical community should continue to embrace social media, as they are an expanding, evolving, and pervasive entities that have unlimited marketing and educational potential. Although “first-wave” sites such as Facebook and Twitter are still thriving, there is an emerging “second wave” of sites (including Pinterest, Google+, and Tumblr) that represents an industry teeming with promise for individuals and institutions. Learn to “like” social networking, because even small strategies can have a huge impact.

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None of the authors has a financial interest in any of the products or devices mentioned in this article.

Jacqueline S. Israel, B.A.

Benjamin A. Mandel, M.D.

Michael L. Bentz, M.D.

Ahmed M. Afifi, M.D.

Department of Surgery

Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

University of Wisconsin

School of Medicine and Public Health

Madison, Wis.

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1. D’Alessandro AM, Peltier JW, Dahl AJ. The impact of social, cognitive and attitudinal dimensions on college students’ support for organ donation. Am J Transplant. 2012;12:152–161
2. Abdul SS, Lin CW, Scholl J, et al. Facebook use leads to health-care reform in Taiwan. Lancet. 2011;377:2083–2084
3. Rohrich RJ, Weinstein AG. Connect with plastic surgery: Social media for good. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2012;129:789–792
4. Mychasiuk R, Benzies K. Facebook: An effective tool for participant retention in longitudinal research. Child Care Health Dev. 2012;38:753–756
5. Leow JJ, Pozo ME, Groen RS, Kushner AL. Social media in low-resource settings: A role for Twitter and Facebook in global surgery?. Surgery. 2012;151:767–769
6. Yamout SZ, Glick ZA, Lind DS, Monson RA, Glick PL. Using social media to enhance surgeon and patient education and communication. Bull Am Coll Surg. 2011;96:7–15
7. Piskorski MJ. Social strategies that work. Harv Bus Rev. 2011;89:116–122
8. Greysen SR, Chretien KC, Kind T, Young A, Gross CP. Physician violations of online professionalism and disciplinary actions: A national survey of state medical boards. JAMA. 2012;307:1141–1142
9. Chretien KC, Greysen SR, Chretien JP, Kind T. Online posting of unprofessional content by medical students. JAMA. 2009;302:1309–1315
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