Every business, including surgery centers, needs to know the social media landscape and how it can help or hurt their image and brand. Through social media, surgery centers can reach their clients with messages that help build trust and interest.

However, this only works if administrators know who they are trying to reach, says Nick Sideris, business development manager with Johnson & Johnson Vision in Des Moines, IA.

“We first need to identify target demographics,” he says. “Age is the biggest factor.” Knowing your patients’ average age is important to deciding which social media platforms to use. “If you are after a younger demographic, then use Snapchat or TikTok,” Sideris suggests.

People in their teens and early 20s primarily use those social media platforms. If patients are in their late 20s through their 30s, then they use Instagram, he adds. “Instagram is wildly popular for that demographic,” Sideris reports.

Patients older than age 40 might maintain an Instagram account, but most will use Facebook. “People age 50 and up have been the biggest growing population for Facebook,” Sideris says. “Millennials still have Facebook, but they’re not as active as they once were. They post most of their activity on Instagram.” Sideris offers a few tips on how to build a helpful social media presence:

Create a patient avatar. Avatars are figures that represent people in video games or internet forums. Sideris suggests surgery centers create an avatar to represent their ideal patient. They can find an image online that illustrates the patient avatar. For instance, they could name the avatar “Sally Smith.”

The point is to think of a specific, fictional person when working on educational and messaging content for patients. “When you speak to everyone, you’re actually speaking to no one,” Sideris says. To make this work, the avatar must fit the characteristics of a typical patient. “It’s more than just age, income, and demographics,” he says. “We need to know what are their pains, keeping them up at night.”

Give the avatar goals, fears, frustrations, and aspirations. “I tell practices to tape that Sally Smith avatar picture on their walls,” Sideris says. “Look at the picture when you’re putting together content for social media; pretend you’re speaking to Sally, your ideal patient demographic.”

Understanding patients’ physical problems helps a surgery center gain their trust. “[Patients] assume we have the answers they are looking for,” Sideris adds.

Develop educational and entertaining content. Create content that furthers education and really resonates with people, Sideris suggests. For instance, think of the patient’s journey in terms of the avatar.

“If you know your avatar really well, you know what journey they take, from never hearing of your surgery practice to choosing your practice for their surgery,” Sideris says. “If you know what those stages are, you can create content for each of those stages.”

For people who are just beginning their surgery center search, the social media content could include answers to commonly asked questions. The surgery center’s social media content could be produced in brief and multiple postings. For instance, each posting could be a short video of the surgeon answering a common question about the procedure, Sideris says.

Use social media for branding, awareness. “Think of Facebook and Instagram as branding tools,” Sideris says. When businesses create educational content, social media accounts are in the funnel. “The top of the funnel is awareness, and the next is consideration, where they are educated and want to go deeper into whether it is good for them or not,” Sideris explains. “We could create some value tools, lead generation offers, and we can give people something in exchange, like a consumer’s guide to the surgery. Ask people to give you their names and emails, and you can send them a five-page PDF report.”

Another way to improve branding on social media is to create a quiz, perhaps one that helps a prospective patient gauge if he or she is a good candidate for the surgery, Sideris suggests. On branding, the final part of that funnel is a purchase section, where the prospective patient provides some information — and a little bit of trust.

“Overcoming objections is huge in this section,” Sideris says. “They’ve done their research, and are almost ready to go to your center, but there may be objections they need to overcome.”

Objections could involve fear and price. Testimonials and information about the surgery’s cost and monthly payment options could answer those objections.

Allow posting, but monitor comments. “Definitely allow posting,” Sideris says. “The whole purpose of social media is to be social.”

A social media site that includes posts from patients and potential patients creates an enhanced level of awareness and authenticity, he says. These are patients who decided to use the surgery center’s services and could be willing to write a brief testimonial about their happy experiences.

“What you notice most is a Facebook ad that is run in a news feed, and people can comment on your ad,” he explains. “This is a great thing about social media vs. traditional advertising, where there’s a billboard on the side of the road.” However, comments can be a problem if they are negative and remain unanswered. “It’s super important to keep an eye on those things,” Sideris says. “You may catch someone on a bad day, and they say something super negative about you.”

Respond positively. If the comment is destructive or off base, then it should be deleted, but surgery centers should not censor comments. That detracts from authenticity. “You don’t want to limit their voices,” Sideris adds. “When it comes to reviews of a surgery center, you should check with a HIPAA attorney about how to respond appropriately.”

One employee at the surgery center could be put in charge of keeping an eye on the social media sites and checking them at least once a day. Surgery centers also can set up a Google alert with their practice’s name. This generates automatic emails whenever something is said somewhere online about the practice.

Also, organizations could hire outside firms to monitor and provide content for their social media accounts, but the money spent on that might be better spent on hiring an outside firm to run ads on social media sites, Sideris says.

“For day-to-day organic posts, it’s much better to do it in house,” he offers. “The agency might be in New York, and your practice is in California. The subtleties of your local market are not communicated to them.”

Plus, an outside agency would not know about day-to-day things, such as a staff member’s birthday. “They won’t know that information, and wouldn’t be able to snap a picture to post on Facebook,” Sideris adds.

Post creatively. A lot of practices know they need to post something online, but they are unsure of what to post. “People will sit behind a computer, thinking they need to post, but don’t know what to do because they believe they must create a beautiful masterpiece,” Sideris observes.

He suggests turning on a smartphone video and documenting what is going on at the surgery center. For example, if it is Halloween, then someone can take pictures of employees dressed in costumes and ask their social media followers to vote on the best costume. “Or, say it’s a super windy day. You could insert a video of a cow flying in a twister,” he says. “Use it as a tool to keep people engaged and commenting.”

Try sharing a photo of flowers that a patient left as a gift to the center. Post a meme, or reply to a comment with a GIF. Sideris knew a practice that received a comment on an ad that read, “Hey, Joe, that looks like you.” The practice answered the comment with a GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio from a movie where he’s moving his hands to suggest, “Maybe?”

“They got a ton of comments and likes and shares,” Sideris says. “There was engagement because of that.”